Edward Snowden: Education Through Practical Training

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Permanent Record" by Edward Snowden. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Where did Edward Snowden go to school? What was the Edward Snowden education background that led to his career in intelligence and technology? What was Snowden training to become?

Edward Snowden learned many of his technological skills from experience instead of formal education. For Edward Snowden, education was a targeted endeavor.

Learn about Edward Snowden–education, background, and how it set him up for his career.

When Ed was nine, his family moved to Crofton, Maryland. Lonnie continued to work for the Coast Guard. Wendy took a new job at the NSA, the National Security Agency, making retirement arrangements for spies.

Edward Snowden: Education Through Hardship

Ed had been popular enough and had good grades back in North Carolina, but he didn’t fit in at his new school. He didn’t like sports, he wore glasses, and his classmates mocked his Southern accent. He was so insecure about his accent that he taught himself to speak differently and didn’t talk at school until he’d ironed it out. Not talking affected his grades enough that his teachers thought he might have a learning disability. They got him to take an IQ test, which he scored very high on. This resulted in “enrichment assignments.”

Education After Mononucleosis

In sophomore year, Ed came down with mononucleosis. He was so tired he couldn’t go to school or even stay awake long enough to do more than play games on the computer. He eventually became too sick to even play on the computer and it was a dark time emotionally. He missed four months of school and then got a letter that told him he’d have to repeat the year. He absolutely did not want to do this and it kicked him out of his slump. He looked for a hack. For Edward Snowden, education was a means to an end.

Education at Community College

Ed discovered you don’t actually need a high school diploma to get into college and got himself accepted at Anne Arundel Community College. He went to class two days a week, which was all he could handle as he was still recovering. It wasn’t a very social experience—the college didn’t have much of a campus life, but Ed didn’t mind. He was younger than anyone else, too sick to do much socializing anyway, and was fine with the anonymity. He liked his college classes better than his high school classes. (He did eventually get his GED.)

Edward Snowden: Education on the Job

When Ed was attending college, he met Mae in Japanese class. Mae was a published artist who also owned a web-design business. Ed was infatuated with her and started working as a web designer for her company. This gave Snowden training that was practical.

Mae was good at the business side of things, especially once Ed took over some of the web design work, and she’d try to get jobs directly rather than going through the work portals. She was an illustrator so she could also offer logo design and branding services.

Ed enjoyed the job—even though it was sometimes repetitive, he got to spend time with Mae—but realized he needed to certify to go farther in the field. He got his MCSE certification from Johns Hopkins University. 

Edward Snowden: Education and Training for TISO

Ed went to the Hill to train to be a TISO. Ed, like other students, lived in a dilapidated Comfort Inn hotel during the six-month training period.

Ed’s classes were about all things technology. For example, he once had to haul an eighty-pound suitcase of Cold War-era communications gear up the roof of a building. Then, using only a sheet of coordinates and a compass, he had to find CIA stealth satellites and send CIA headquarters a radio message. He also learned about Van Eck phreaking (mirroring someone else’s monitor), how to service cables (physical cables connecting agency sites underground and underwater), and terminals (computers). Ed’s was the last year that TISOs studied these older technologies. This robust program gave Snowden training to do the job well. It was also a launching pad.

Edward Snowden: Education Through Practical Training

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Edward Snowden's "Permanent Record" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Permanent Record summary:

  • What Ed Snowden discovered that caused him to completely lose faith in the government
  • How Snowden led the bombshell reports of US mass surveillance
  • How Snowden is coping with his treatment as both patriot and traitor

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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