The Full Edward Snowden Timeline: Birth to NSA Leak

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What are the major events in Edward Snowden’s life? What does the Edward Snowden timeline cover? When did he enter his career and then become a leaker?

The Edward Snowden timeline covers key events that shaped the future whistleblower. It also covers timing of his discovery and eventual leaking of government documents.

Learn more about the key events in this Edward Snowden timeline.

Edward Snowden Timeline

Edward Snowden was born on June 21, 1983, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Ed was part of the last generation whose childhood wasn’t digitized. 

Edward Snowden Timeline: Childhood and Exposure to Technology (Ages 6-9)

Ed liked spying when he was a child. His father often had access to new technology in his work with the Coast Guard. Sometimes, he would bring technology home. One day, Lonnie brought home a Commodore 64, one of the first home computers. Ed spied on his father while he played Choplifter! In 1989, when Ed was six, his family got a Nintendo (8-bit NES).

Ed and his family moved to Crofton, Maryland when Ed was nine. His father continued to work for the Coast Guard. His mother took a new job at the National Security Agency (NSA). She made retirement arrangements for spies.

Hacking and Addicted to the Internet (Ages 12-15)

When Ed was approximately 12, he decided to spend as much time as he possibly could online. The Internet became an obsession. He became paler, sedentary, and slept at school instead of at night. His grades fell again. He didn’t mind because he was getting an education online and his parents were happy enough with this reasoning—for a while. 

As Ed entered his teenage years, he encountered the same struggle all teenagers have to deal with—feeling like they’re adults but being treated like children. This was where he really started questioning the rules—if there wasn’t a good justification for a rule to be followed, it was just a power trip. At this time in his life, Ed thought in terms of black and white—binary is only 0 or 1, false or true. He hadn’t developed nuance. Ed’s teenage rebellion consisted of hacking.

First Tech Job (Age 16-17)

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.

9/11 (Age 18)

Mae lived on base. On September 11, 2001, Ed and Mae heard about the attack quickly. He had come to her house for work and the base was evacuated. At the time, Ed fully supported the war. Mae didn’t, and they grew apart. Ed distanced himself from the anti-institutional views of hacker culture and his parents’ apolitical patriotism. He’d never wanted to serve before, but he did now. 

Edward Snowden Timeline: Army and Career (2004-2013)

Next in the Edward Snowden timeline is his time as an adult in the army and in his career, as he advanced through the ranks as in intelligence.

Brief Army Stint (2004)

Ed qualified for the X-Ray program based on his performance in his entrance exams, but he had to get through basic training. During a land navigation movement drill—map and compass navigation—Ed fell and injured himself. Ed agreed to leave the army on an administrative separation.

Technologist Career (2005-2009)

The next stage in Ed’s life and on the Edward Snowden timeline is Ed’s first job. His first job as a technologist was for a company called COMSO that contracted services to the CIA. (Intelligence agencies rely so heavily on contracting that it’s easier to work for them as a contractor than as an employee.) Ed spent the next few years working at a variety of positions for the CIA and NSA in the US, Geneva, and Tokyo. 

In Tokyo, Ed discovered that the US government was conducting mass surveillance programs on US citizens. Because Ed worked with computer systems, he had top secret security clearance and access to more documents than most individuals would, even those higher up in the agency.

Blowing the Whistle (2012-2013)

Next in the Edward Snowden timeline is the act of blowing the whistle. Ed finally decided to act after reviewing the Constitution in 2012. If Ed was caught, he’d be arrested, and the NSA had plenty of security. However, Ed had spent his entire career learning to anonymize himself on the Internet and he’d built a lot of the systems the NSA used, so he knew how to exploit them. 

Connecting with journalists was also a challenge. He used encrypted email and a computer that deleted everything he did on it every time it was shut down. Ed met with journalists in Hong Kong in spring 2013 and the mass surveillance program was revealed to the public.

The Full Edward Snowden Timeline: Birth to NSA Leak

———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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