The 29-year-old whistleblower who exposed the National Security Agency collection of Internet and cell phone users has come forward to say he has no regrets and wants the world to know his motive for the leak.
It took more than 30 years to learn the identity of the secret informant who ignited the Watergate scandal, but Edward Snowden said he actually feels safer with the world knowing who he is, what he knows and why he couldn't keep it a secret.
At a time when journalists' sources are facing increasing political pressure, Snowden is revealing himself as the man some view as a hero and others consider an enemy of the state.
"The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change," he told The Guardian in an over-12-minute interview held in a Hong Kong hotel room.
Snowden is a high-school dropout who once enlisted in the Army and eventually became the intelligence employee who brought the top-secret scouring program codenamed PRISM into the light.
"Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded," Snowden warned.
On Sunday, the former technical assistant for the CIA revealed himself as the source to the UK's Guardian newspaper, which broke the story last week -- and he said he doesn't suffer any illusions about how he will be portrayed.
"Every time there is a whistleblower, somebody who exposes government wrongdoing, the tactic of the government is to try and demonize them as a traitor," Glenn Greenwald, of the Guardian, told ABC.
For now, Snowden is staying in Hong Kong because of the city's commitment to free speech and history of political dissent; however, he may seek asylum in Iceland and said he is aware of the risks he is facing.
"You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk," he said. "They're such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you in time."
Snowden was working for an NSA contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, and was stationed in Hawaii when he took medical leave and left with the information about the government operation that allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of nine major U.S. Internet companies, from Google to Apple and Facebook. The software searches e-mails, photos and videos in the name of national security.
"The program is essentially walled-off within the NSA," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said of PRISM. "There are limited numbers of people who have access to it."
That limited number included Snowden, who felt compelled to expose the program to let the public discuss and decide whether or not the policies are acceptable in America. Now, a conversation is beginning.
"I am not happy that we've had leaks and these leaks are concerning, but I think it's an opportunity now to have a discussion about the limits of surveillance, how we create transparency and above all, how we protect Americans' privacy," said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Snowden said he hopes the publicity of the leaks will help provide him some protection, adding that he has no regrets about his decision regardless of what happens in the future.
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