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Edward Snowden: A Timeline

From his school days on the East Coast to working for U.S. intelligence and contractors around the world to leaking documents and fleeing to Russia.
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June 21, 1983: Edward Joseph Snowden is born in Elizabeth City, N.C. He spends his early life there before moving with his parents, Lonnie, a Coast Guard officer, and Elizabeth, known as Wendy, to Maryland.

1991-1998: Snowden attends public schools in Anne Arundel County, south of Baltimore, before dropping out of high school in his sophomore year.

1999-2001: During this period, the New York Times reports, he developed a fascination with computers and technology and socialized with a tight circle of friends who were similarly enamored of the Internet and Japanese anime culture. He also registered on the Ars Technica website, a hacking and technology forum, and over a two-year period posted as “The One True Hooha” or just “Hooha” about role-playing video games. After his parents’ divorce in 2001, Snowden lived with his mother in Ellicott City, Md.

Image: An avatar of Edward Snowden in 2002 on the left, and a picture of Snowden in 2002.
On the left is the avatar posted beside Edward Snowden's biography in 2002, when he worked as a webmaster and editor for a website devoted to Japanese anime art that he started with friends in Maryland. On the right, Snowden put clothespins on his chest while working at the site in via Reuters file

2002-2004: After attending a local community college off and on, Snowden passes a General Educational Development test to receive a high school equivalency credential. In March 2004, he enlists in an Army Reserve Special Forces training program to “fight to help free people from oppression” in Iraq, he later tells Britain’s Guardian newspaper. But he says he broke his legs in a training accident, and Army records show he was discharged in September. He then lands a job as a security guard at the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland, which has a close relationship with the National Security Agency, according to the Times.

2006: Snowden is hired by the CIA as a technical/IT expert and receives a top-secret clearance.

2007-2009: Snowden is posted to Geneva, Switzerland, under diplomatic cover as an IT and cyber security expert for the CIA, a position that gives him access to a wide array of classified documents. He later tells the Guardian that during this period he became disillusioned “about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world. I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."

Late 2009-March 2012: Snowden’s supervisor at the CIA placed a critical assessment of his behavior and work habits in his personnel file and voiced the suspicion that he had tried to “break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access,” the New York Times reports after he is identified as the leaker, quoting two unnamed “senior American officials.” Snowden leaves the CIA soon after his supervisor’s criticism and begins work as a NSA contractor assigned by Dell -- one of 854,000 contractors with top-secret clearance working for the federal government. Over the next several years, he switches between assignments with the NSA and CIA for Dell, including a stint at a NSA facility in Japan that lasts until March 2012.

Image: A real estate sign stands in front of a home in Waipahu, Hawaii, Sunday, June 9, 2013, where Edward Snowden, source of disclosures about the U.S. government's secret surveillance programs, lived with his girlfriend until recently.
A real estate sign stands in front of a home in Waipahu, Hawaii, on June 9, 2013, where Edward Snowden lived with his girlfriend.Anita Hofschneider / AP file

March 2012: Snowden moves to Hawaii to work at a NSA facility there as a Dell employee. He moves into a blue-and-white house in Waipahu, where he is joined by his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, a 28-year-old performance artist. He donates $250 to the Republican presidential campaign of libertarian Ron Paul, campaign records show, followed by a second contribution of the same amount two months later.

Dec. 1, 2012: Snowden reaches out to Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and columnist for The Guardian.

Jan. 2013: Snowden reaches out to Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker.

March 2013: He seeks a new contractor job with Booz Allen Hamilton at the same NSA facility in Hawaii. He later tells the South China Morning Post that he did so to get additional access to classified documents he intends to leak.

Image: Booz Allen Hamilton headquarters in McLean, Virginia
Booz Allen Hamilton headquarters in McLean, Va.MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA

May 2013: Snowden begins sending some documents to Poitras, Greenwald and to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post. He tells his NSA supervisor that he needs to take some time off to undergo treatment for epilepsy, which he was diagnosed with the previous year, according to the Guardian. He tells his girlfriend he will be away for a few weeks, but is vague about the reason.

May 20, 2013: Snowden arrives in Hong Kong from Hawaii.

June 2, 2013: Greenwald and Poitras arrive in Hong Kong.

June 5, 2013: First revelations arising from the documents provided by Snowden are published in a Guardian article about the NSA’s collection of domestic email and telephone metadata from Verizon as part of what is later revealed to be an even broader collection effort.

June 6, 2013: The Guardian and the Washington Post each publish an article about the NSA program PRISM, which forces biggest US internet companies to hand over data on domestic users.

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June 8, 2013: The Guardian publishes NSA slides on Boundless Informant, which shows NSA collected nearly 3 billion pieces of intelligence inside the U.S. in February 2013 alone.

June 9, 2013: The Guardian reveals Edward Snowden as the source of the NSA leaks.

June 11, 2013: Snowden is fired by Booz Allen Hamilton. In a statement, the company says, “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

Image: Glenn Greenwald, right, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, speaks to media at a hotel in Hong Kong June 10, 2013
Glenn Greenwald, right, speaks to reporters at a hotel in Hong Kong about his working relationship with Edward Snowden on June 10, 2013.Vincent Yu / AP file

June 14, 2013: The U.S. Justice Department charges Snowden with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person” – the latter two charges violations of the 1917 Espionage Act. The criminal complaint is initially filed under seal in the Eastern District of Virginia, and unsealed a week later.

June 23, 2013: Snowden leaves Hong Kong for Ecuador, with a planned stopover in Russia. But he is stranded at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow after U.S. authorities rescind his passport. He spends the next month living in limbo in the airport’s transit center.

Aug. 1, 2013: He is granted temporary asylum by Russian authorities as they consider his application for permanent political asylum.

Aug. 1, 2013: The Guardian publishes an article detailing NSA funding for British intelligence because U.K. can collect data that would illegal for NSA to do, based on documents provided by Snowden.

Oct. 2, 2013: At a Senate hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tells lawmakers that Snowden’s leaks have aided America’s enemies and “done great damage” to its allies. “People’s lives are at risk here because of data that Mr. Snowden purloined,” he says.

Oct. 14, 2013: The Washington Post reports on documents revealing that the NSA collects over 250 million email inbox views and contact lists a year from online services like Yahoo, Gmail and Facebook. The documents, provided by Snowden, show the agency collects the data in bulk from massive fiber optic cables that carry most of the world's telephone and Internet traffic.

Dec. 16, 2013: U.S. District Judge Richard Leon rules that the NSA’s gathering of data on all telephone calls made in the United States appears to violate the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches. But Leon, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, puts his ruling on hold to allow the government to appeal.

Dec. 27, 2013: Another federal judge, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III in Manhattan, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, reaches an opposite conclusion, ruling that the NSA’s collection of phone data is legal.

Jan. 17, 2014: In a speech on government mass surveillance revealed by Snowden,President Barack Obama orders Attorney General Eric Holder to study possible reforms of the program. But he also defends NSA employees and attempts to assure Americans they are "not abusing (their) authorities to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails."

Jan. 27, 2014 -- Based on Snowden documents, NBC News reports that British cyber spies demonstrated a pilot program to their U.S. partners in 2012 in which they were able to monitor YouTube in real time and collect addresses from the billions of videos watched daily, as well as some user information, for analysis. At the time, they were also able to spy on Facebook and Twitter.

Feb. 7, 2014 -- NBC News reports, based on Snowden documents, that British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers that include releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into “honey traps.”

March 6, 2014: The Pentagon might need to spend billions to overcome the damage done to military security by Snowden's leaks of intelligence documents, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells members of Congress at a hearing on the defense budget.

March 10, 2014: In a teleconference appearance from Moscow, Snowden tells a crowd at the South by Southwest music and technology festival in Austin, Texas, that the NSA and its counterparts are "setting fire to the future of the Internet," and urges technologists in attendance to “help us fix this.”

April 17, 2014: Snowden appears via webcam on Russian television to ask President Vladimir Putin about whether Russia conducts mass surveillance of civilians. The softball setup — Putin replied with a resounding "no," adding that he is against spying on his people — was generally seen as a PR stunt. But in a subsequent opinion column in The Guardian, Snowden defends his line of questioning and notes that Putin was evasive in his response.

May 21, 2014: NBC News’ Brian Williams interviews Snowden in Moscow. Key pieces of the interview will be broadcast in a one-hour Prime Time special on Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern/9 p.m. Central.