WASHINGTON -- A 29-year-old former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor is the source of The Guardian's disclosures about the U.S. government's secret surveillance programs, the newspaper reported Sunday.
The leaks have reopened the post-Sept. 11 debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measure to protect against terrorist attacks and led the NSA to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation.
The Guardian said it was publishing the identity of Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, at his own request.
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," Snowden told the newspaper.
A spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence did not have immediate comment on the disclosure.
The NSA has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans each day, creating a database through which it can learn whether terror suspects have been in contact with people in the U.S. The NSA program does not listen to actual conversations.
Separately, an Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into U.S. nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all Internet usage -- audio, video, photographs, emails and searches. The effort is designed to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper decried the revelation of the intelligence-gathering programs as reckless and said it has done "huge, grave damage." In recent days, he took the rare step of declassifying some details about them to respond to media reports about counterterrorism techniques employed by the government.
President Barack Obama, Clapper and others have said the programs are authorized by Congress and subject to strict supervision of a secret court.
"It's important to recognize that you can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," Obama said. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society. And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity."
Snowden told the newspaper that he lacked a high school diploma and enlisted in the U.S. Army until he was discharged with broken legs after a training mission.
After leaving the Army, Snowden got his start with the NSA at a covert facility at the University of Maryland, working as a security guard.