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As Robert Frost put his colours to the mast long ago when he said, “I took the path less travelled, and it made all the difference,” a certain young man embodied Frost’s spirit in that not only did he begin his professional career in an unconventional field but also walked away from it to take up another that was granted entirely different from the previous, it was similarly unconventional.

Edward Joseph Snowden is an American former computer intelligence consultant who is infamous for having leaked highly-classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, when he was an employee and subcontractor there. His disclosures revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA itself and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments prompting a global cultural discussion about national security and individual privacy.

After attending a 2006 job-fair focused on intelligence agencies, Snowden accepted an offer for a position in the global communications division from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. There, at the CIA's secret school for technology specialists, he distinguished himself as a junior employee on the top computer team to live in a hotel for six months while studying and training full-time. In May 2006, Snowden wrote in a website called Ars Technica that it was fairly easy for him to find work because he was notorious as a "computer wizard". In March 2007, he was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, with diplomatic cover for maintaining security of computer-network. He later stated that in its immoral foulplay, the Agency deliberately got a Swiss banker under substance influence and encouraged him to drive home and when the latter was arrested for drunk driving, a CIA operative conveniently offered aid in exchange for the Swiss banker becoming a CIA informant.

In 2009, Snowden began work as a contractee for Dell and was assigned to an NSA facility at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo. Snowden instructed military officers and top officials on how to defend their networks against Chinese hackers and in the process, looked into the mass surveillance system in China. When he was asked in 2009 to brief a conference in Tokyo, this particularly prompted him to investigate and subsequently expose Washington's mass surveillance program. In 2010, he had a short stint in New Delhi, India where he had enrolled himself in a local IT institute to learn advanced ethical hacking and core Java programming. He spent the next year in Maryland as the lead technologist on the CIA account of Dell which allowed for consultations from the chiefs of the CIA's various technical branches, including the agency's chief technology officer and chief information officer. In March 2012, Snowden was reassigned to Hawaii as lead technologist for the information-sharing office of the NSA that focused on the electronic monitoring of China and North Korea, where he remained employed for 15 months. US officials and other sources familiar with the investigation said that while working for Dell in April 2012, Snowden had begun downloading documents that detailed the US government's electronic spying programs.

On March 15, 2013, Snowden quit his job at Dell and instead took a pay cut to work at the consulting firm called Booz Allen Hamilton after "seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress". He later described this event as his "breaking point". Snowden sought employment in said firm specifically to gather enough data to be able to release the details of the worldwide surveillance activities that took place under the NSA. In due course, he gradually became disillusioned with the programs he was involved in, and tried to raise his ethical concerns through internal channels but was constantly ignored.

Snowden flew to Hong Kong on May 20, 2013, and in early June he revealed scores of classified NSA documents to journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Barton Gellman. As a result, Edward Snowden came to international attention after stories based on the material appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian and other such publications.

A subject of controversy, Edward Snowden has been variously called a traitor, a hero, a dissident, a coward, a patriot, or as he prefers it: a whistleblower, which is a term used for a person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity. US officials accursed his actions for having done "grave damage" to U.S. intelligence capabilities and Snowden in turn defended his leaks as an effort "to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them. His disclosures have fueled debates over government secrecy, mass surveillance, and the balance between information privacy and national security.

On June 21, 2013, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against Snowden of two counts: firstly, of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and secondly, theft of government property, as a consequence of which the US Department of State revoked his passport. Two days later, he flew into the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, where Russian authorities observed the cancelled passport, and restricted him to the airport terminal for over a month. Russia later granted Snowden the right of asylum with an initial visa allowing residence for one year, which was repeatedly extended afterwards. In early 2016, he became President of a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, that aims to protect journalists from government surveillance and hacking. He also apparently has a job at an unnamed Russian IT company. More recently, Edward Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizner told The New York Times that Mr. Snowden was “earning upwards of $10,000 for a paid speaking engagement, typically conducted via video chat.” In October 2020, he was granted permanent residency in Russia where he now shares a home with his wife, Lindsay Mills and child, a baby boy whose name they are yet to reveal.

Snowden’s life has been adapted for screen in various forms. Among them, Snowden (2016) starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Shailene Woodley, and Citizenfour (2014) starring the man himself, feature on the most popular list.

On September 2, 2020, a U.S. federal court ruled in United States v. Moalin that the U.S. intelligence's mass surveillance program exposed by Snowden was illegal and possibly unconstitutional. Therefore, a true whistleblower, Edward Snowden's endeavor to refute the world’s most powerful government in his duty to the people, nay his duty to humanity, did not end fruitless. 

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