Edward Joseph Snowden, the government contractor who revealed the National Security Agency's massive telephone- and Internet-surveillance program, has left few public clues about his life growing up in Crofton and Ellicott City.
Snowden, 29, attended Anne Arundel County public schools until leaving Arundel High midway through the 1998-1999 academic year, a district spokesman said Monday. He went on to take courses at the county's community college for the next half-dozen years but never received a degree, according to officials there.
Neighbors in the Ellicott City subdivision where Snowden previously lived with his mother, Elizabeth Barrett Snowden, described him as a quiet young man who spent a lot of time on his computer. Elizabeth Snowden, also known as "Wendy," is chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology for U.S. District Court in Baltimore, a court official confirmed.
She continued to avoid reporters who staked out her gray-sided home in the Woodland Village subdivision Monday.
Her son "seemed like a nice young man," said one neighbor, Ann Marie Conway, 50, who recalled seeing him a few months ago.
"His mother is a lovely woman," Conway said. "She's hardworking, has high integrity. I can't imagine that she would teach him to do anything other than what was right."
Snowden dropped out of sight Monday, checking out of the glitzy Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where he had holed up for weeks. It was there that he admitted in a taped interview with a British newspaper that he disclosed a trove of intelligence secrets to the media.
Whether Snowden will give away — among other intelligence secrets he claimed to know — the locations of every CIA base overseas and identities of its undercover officers is unclear.
Despite his lack of academic credentials and a failed stint as an Army recruit, Snowden found his calling in the United States' spy services, using his computer skills to rise from a lowly security position to well-paid private contractor for the NSA. He had rented a bungalow with his girlfriend near Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and claimed to earn $200,000 a year.
In a 12-minute videotaped interview with The Guardian, the British newspaper that broke many of his scoops, he said in a soft-spoken voice that he was determined to shine a light on what he called the federal government's almost unlimited tracking of private citizens' phone calls and Internet usage.
"I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded," he said to the camera.
Snowden's world began in Elizabeth City, along North Carolina's coast. His family moved to Crofton in Anne Arundel County, where he attended Crofton Woods Elementary School and then Crofton Middle School, said Robert Mosier, a spokesman for Arundel public schools. Mosier said Snowden then attended Arundel High for 11/2 years.
Snowden told The Guardian he struggled in high school, eventually dropping out.
Officials at Anne Arundel Community College said an Edward Joseph Snowden took courses there from 1999 through fall 2005 but did not receive a degree or certificate.
"We cannot confirm with certainty that he is the same person involved in the NSA phone monitoring situation as Snowden is a popular name in this area," AACC spokeswoman Susan Gross said in an email.
Another spokesman said the student never took computer classes there but declined to say what he did study.
Snowden's mother filed for divorce from his father, Lonnie Glenn Snowden Jr., in February 2001, and it was finalized three months later, according to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court records.
Joyce Kinsey, 63, who lives across from Elizabeth Snowden, said she thought Edward Snowden moved into the home about a dozen years ago. At first, she said, he lived alone, then with a roommate, and later his mother.
Through their open curtains, Kinsey would see him working on a computer and figured he was in college.
Now, she said, she believes he isn't handling his concerns about privacy in the right way; it would have been better for him to leave the NSA and then get involved in advocacy.
"Everybody has a private life. I think everybody's entitled to their privacy," Kinsey said. "I understand they have to do certain things to protect us, but I don't think they should have free rein."
Neighbor Ann Marie Conway said she would be upset if Snowden were jailed for his actions. His leak should not have been a surprise to either U.S. citizens or foreign governments.
"It comes as no surprise to me that the federal government listens to people in the United States under the aegis of defense," said Conway, herself a government contractor. "I think he did what he thought was right, honestly, and I applaud his courage."