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Snowden: The geek turned Deep Throat

AFP/ AFR | July 1, 2013
Edward Snowden turned over masses of secret information.

Edward Snowden turned over masses of secret information.
Edward Snowden. Photo: Reuters

Hunted as a US traitor and at the center of a diplomatic row, Edward Snowden got off to a less spectacular start in life: he is a self-confessed geek and high school dropout.

Snowden, 30, came out of nowhere to trigger one of the biggest intelligence leaks in American history, sparking a furious standoff with Russia as he evades capture from a Moscow airport transit area.

Yet until he shot to notoriety by revealing details of vast US surveillance programs, Snowden had made little mark on his world.

His classmates remember him as a quiet, blonde-haired boy glued to his computer screen. He left high school at 15 without graduating, but remained fascinated by computer technology.

He had a small, tight-knit circle of friends where he lived near Baltimore, and together they built personal computers, lived and breathed the Internet and Japanese anime.

"He was a geek like the rest of us," one friend told the New York Times. "We played video games, watched anime. It was before geek was cool."

Snowden quickly moved into the online world, adopting an avatar he named "The TrueHooha," and from 2003 spent hours playing online games and wandering through forums and chat rooms.

From 2007 to 2009, he left hundreds of comments on the chatroom of Ars Technica, an online publication devoted to technology news, where a picture emerges of someone "always being sure of himself, sometimes to the point of seeming arrogant."

"He often thought he was the smartest guy in the room, and he let others know it," Ars Technica writes.

"Snowden was frequently someone ready to go to the mat for his beliefs - even when no one was on his side. And he could be abrasive."

Snowden joined the army in 2003, saying he wanted to fight in Iraq. But he never made it there after breaking both legs in a training accident, leading to him being discharged from the military.

He then got a job as a security guard for the NSA, one of the largest and most secretive of the US intelligence agencies.

But in 2006, the young computer geek somehow managed to win an information technology job with the CIA despite lacking formal credentials. From there he was sent to Geneva with a fat paycheck and a diplomatic cover.

On Ars Technica he opined on everything from the cost of bottled water and hamburgers in the Swiss city to his observations of life in Europe.

But he also showed early libertarian leanings, backing the ideas of then presidential hopeful Ron Paul to go back to the gold standard. He also made two $US250 donations to Paul's campaign.

 

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