A 29-year-old American man who claims to have exposed top secret U.S. surveillance programs appears to be a high school dropout who rapidly moved through U.S. intelligence circles.
Edward Snowden grew up in North Carolina and Maryland. In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, he said he never completed high school, but studied computing at a Maryland community college and obtained a General Educational Development diploma.
The Guardian quoted the U.S. military as saying Snowden enlisted in the army reserve as a special forces recruit in May 2004 but did not complete the training and was discharged four months later.
Snowden told the paper that his military career was cut short after he "broke both his legs in a training accident."
The Guardian said Snowden got his first job as a security guard for the U.S. National Security Agency, or NSA, which assigned him to a covert facility at the University of Maryland.
The paper said Snowden's talent for computer programming helped him to move on to a job with the Central Intelligence Agency as an Information Technology security specialist. It says the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland by 2007. The CIA generally refuses to confirm or deny employment with the agency.
Snowden told the paper that he left the CIA in 2009 and took on several jobs as a private contractor for the NSA, including assignments at the computer company Dell and a U.S. military facility in Japan.
U.S. defense consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton said it hired Snowden earlier this year at an office in Hawaii. It said he had been employed for less than three months when he told reporters that he was the source of leaks on the U.S. surveillance programs.
The company expressed shock at the revelations and said that if confirmed, Snowden's actions represent "a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm."
Neighbors said Snowden lived in a house near Honolulu for several months, sharing it with his girlfriend. They say he kept largely to himself and stored an usually large number of boxes in his garage.
The Guardian said Snowden is an Internet freedom advocate, placing stickers on his laptop bearing the names of groups such the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project.
It also quoted him as saying voted for a "third party" candidate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Snowden says he believed in the promises of President Barack Obama, who won that election, and waited to see how Mr. Obama would govern before exposing the secret programs.
Snowden said he eventually disclosed the information in part because Mr. Obama, in his view, "continu[ed] the policies of his predecessor."