Whistleblower Edward Snowden just joined Twitter, and his first tweet (“Can you hear me now?”) seemed to be aimed at a favorite target: the NSA. Snowden gained more than a million followers in his first day after joining, but he’s currently following only one, @NSAGov. That’s the official Twitter account for the US National Security Agency.
In another tweet he said: “Hero, traitor – I’m just a citizen with a voice.”
The former NSA contractor sought asylum in Russia after publicly leaking a trove of classified documents belongs to the NSA exposing the extent of the US Government’s global surveillance programs. For that, the 32-year-old whistleblower is facing espionage and theft charges in the United States. He is believed to be living in Moscow, where he is sheltered from US prosecutors.
Mr Snowden left the US in 2013 after leaking to the media details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence. His information made global headlines when the Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans.
Mr Snowden is believed to have downloaded 1.7 million secret documents before he left the US. Although some consider him a traitor for his revelations, many others around the world say he is a champion of civil liberties. In the US he faces charges that could put him in prison for up to 30 years.
Earlier this year, speaking via video-link to a Geneva audience, he said he would like to be granted asylum in Switzerland. He has previously worked in Geneva undercover for the CIA. Regarding a possible return to the US, he told the audience that authorities there had given him no assurances of a fair trial.
“The only thing they’ve said at this point was that they would not execute me,” he said. “That’s not quite the same thing as agreeing to a fair and open trial.”
Twitter has verified Snowden’s account (@Snowden), and his Twitter bio provides a concise summary of his situation. It reads “I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public. Director at @FreedomofPress.” Freedom Of The Press is a foundation dedicated to ensuring transparency of journalism in adverse situations.
In his second tweet, Snowden responded to the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who welcomed him to Twitter. He wrote, “@neiltyson Thanks for the welcome. And now we’ve got water on Mars! Do you think they check passports at the border? Asking for a friend.”
You can follow Edward Snowden on Twitter (@Snowden).