“The Guardian” reported online Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old technician who currently works for U.S. defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, had provided the information.

The whistleblower behind the most significant US intelligence leak in modern times broke cover on Sunday night, saying he had decided to leave his position at a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor because he believed its unconstrained collection of electronic intelligence was destroying civil liberties and creating the conditions for tyranny.

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old IT administrator for the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, was speaking in Hong Kong after leaking a series of agency documents on the collection of telephone data on millions of Americans, the NSA’s relationship with US internet providers and the Obama administration cyber-warfare policy.

“I can’t allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties,” he said. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” Mr Snowden said he felt compelled to speak out because in his job helping to run the NSA computer systems, he had witnessed a pattern of excessive and intrusive surveillance of Americans, and that his objections had been ignored by his superiors.

“When you’re in positions of privileged access, like a systems administrator for these sort of intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale than the average employee, and because of that you see things that may be disturbing but over the course of a normal person’s career you’d only see one or two of these instances,” Mr Snowden said.

“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone: you, your accountant, to a federal judge, even the president if I had a personal email.”

He argued that NSA surveillance was not being effectively constrained by administration policy and would continue to grow as the technology improved. “And the months ahead, the years ahead, it’s only going to get worse, until eventually there will be a time where policies will change — because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy.”

Mr Snowden warned that if there was no greater awareness of what US intelligence was doing and not much greater oversight the “surveillance state” would outrun the ability of the American people to control it. “And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it’ll be turn-key tyranny,” Snowden said.

He said he had given up a comfortable existence in Hawaii and now risked arrest and imprisonment. In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions.” But in an interview with the Guardian, mr Snowden declared: “I’ve no intention of hiding, I’ve done nothing wrong.

“The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome of these disclosures for America is that nothing will change,” he said. “People will see in the media all of these disclosures, they’ll know the lengths the government is going to to grant themselves powers unilaterally, to create greater control over American society and global society, but they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests,” Mr Snowden said.

He also sounded a warning to other nations that the US intelligence establishment does not view international treaties as being binding constraints on its operations. “Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather than a stipulation of law,” he said. “And because of that, a new leader will be elected, they’ll flip the switch, say that because of the ‘crisis’, because of the dangers we face in the world, you know, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.”

He defended his decision to go to Hong Kong to share his knowledge of NSA operations, pointing out that the enclave had autonomies and freedom not shared by the rest of China. He insisted his intention was not to harm America’s security and pointed out that he had access to a huge amount of information that could have crippled US intelligence collection, but had not given it away.

Mr Snowden said that he had raised his concerns at work, but they had been shrugged off, so he felt he had little choice but to go public. © Guardian News & Media 2013

The Guardian has revealed the identity of Mr Snowden “at his request.”

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2013

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