The leak source behind the most recent revelations about the US government's internet and telephone snooping stepped out of the shadows Sunday, describing his actions as patriotic and declaring his intention to seek asylum abroad.
Edward Snowden, 29, was identified at his own request as the source of far-reaching revelations by two newspapers - Britain's The Guardian and The Washington Post.
In a video filmed in Hong Kong and posted online, Snowden said he had been employed as an information technology expert for the National Security Agency (NSA) by the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii.
Snowden likely faces prosecution by US, which would have to request extradition from China or revoke his US passport.
In the video, Snowden warns that the US government is collecting so much information that it would soon have the capability of casting suspicion on even the most "innocent life" by trolling through the assembled data.
"If you realize that that's the world you helped create, and it's going to get worse ... to extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk ... as long as the public gets to make their own decision about how that is applied," he said.
Snowden fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong in May before The Guardian posted the first stories on the leaks, which revealed the National Security Agency's seizure of broad telephone data on domestic calls as well as those made between the US and foreign countries.
Subsequently, the Guardian and Post revealed that NSA has been tapping directly into the servers of at least nine leading internet companies including Google, Facebook, Skype and YouTube.
The disclosures have sent the US intelligence community reeling and provoked a strong defence by the White House and Congress of the practices as something needed to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, Saturday said he expected the Justice Department to address the issue of criminal prosecution "in the coming days" as officials assess the damage that has been done to US security.
Calls came from Congress on Sunday for Snowden's prosecution. Representative Peter King called for his extradition from abroad and, if he did "in fact leak the NSA data, the US government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law," according to a statement read on CNN.
The events overshadowed the meetings in California over the weekend between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where the issue of US allegations that China has been hacking into the US infrastructure was on the agenda.
The irony of Snowden's flight to Hong Kong was not lost on commentators, or even his interviewer in the video.
Asked if he was worried he would be accused of betraying US secrets to the enemy, Snowden described Hong Kong as "independent in relation to a lot of other western governments" with a "strong tradition of free speech." He declared that China was not an enemy of the US, but rather its largest trading partner.
Snowden indicated he did not intend to ever return to the United States, telling the Washington Post: "I intend to ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy."
Snowden's employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, called Snowden's admissions "shocking" and "if accurate, this represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm." The firm is one of the leading intelligence contractors to the US government, and the disclosure threatened to stir up renewed debate about the role of such firms in running the country and its foreign wars.
The Obama administration has vigorously pursued government leaks, having stirred huge furor just last month about secretly seizing telephone records of the Associated Press.
Last week, the court martial of Army Private Bradley Manning, 25, opened in Fort Meade, Maryland, and the parallels between the two cases were striking, focussing more attention on the tug-of-war between the government's need for secrecy and security versus the public's right to privacy.
Manning's defence attorney tried to explain that Manning leaked 700,000 secret military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks out of moral outrage over the uncelebrated death of an innocent Iraqi driver.
Similarly, Snowden said he leaked the information out of a growing moral frustration over his supervisors' indifference to questions he raised about what he saw as "abuses" by the NSA.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought and was granted asylum at the Ecudorian embassy in Britain, similar to Snowden's intention to seek asylum abroad.
And like Manning, Snowden had access to top level security information.
Snowden revealed his identity because he thought the public was "owed an explanation."
"When you are subverting the power of government, that is a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy," he said. He wanted to avoid being painted as anti-government.
Snowden said he believed his life might be at risk, and that he could be "rendered by the CIA" or even killed by an Asian triad.
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