"Snow White" was the nickname his colleagues called him. He was born in 1983, in a family with many members working for government and although unusually intelligent and talented, he intended to do the same himself. With patriotic fervor, he joined the army the better to serve his country.
His physique did not survive basic training, and after breaking both legs he decided to apply instead to the CIA in 2004 where his skills might be better suited. He was accepted and quickly showed himself an unusually brilliant computer whiz and earned rapid promotion. By now you may have guessed his name: Edward Snowden.
He did outstanding work for the CIA, and earned fame within that outfit for writing a suite of data reduction programs designed to make sense out of an otherwise too-massive surveilled database. He then noticed that the data gathered was being used to target the government's enemies overseas with drone strikes, and knowing that it was not 100% accurate, began to doubt the morality of his job. He left the agency the following year but joined Dell, in its department which serviced the NSA. Yes, folks, the friendly people who made my PC and maybe yours, actively help government snoop on us.
In the same period, Ed had moved away from his Rightist patriotism towards a more libertarian view of the world, under the influence of Ron Paul; and in 2008 voted neither R nor D.
In Dell and later for Booz Allen Hamilton he again excelled professionally, but by 2012 had become ever more horrified about the unconstitutional dragnet he was helping operate. Then on March 13th 2013, he saw National Intelligence Director James Clapper blatantly lie to Congress, and he "snapped."
Senator Wyden asked Clapper whether data was being collected on large numbers of Americans in any way, and Clapper answered "Not wittingly'; he explained that in the course of other surveillance some US citizens might happen to be caught in the net but that was inadvertent, not deliberate or "witting." All that was false. Such data collection was being done very deliberately and on a massive scale, and Clapper knew that perfectly well.
In an interesting comment, James Joyner notes that Clapper, though a liar who ought to have been prosecuted for perjury, was between a rock and a hard place. If he'd told the truth, he would have been revealing classified information, so he couldn't! This is how these government creeps keep their misdeeds out of the public eye; they write laws that make it illegal to tell us what they're doing.
Oliver Stone's excellent movie Snowden relates the story of how he snapped, and it all became very public in 2013 when Ed fled to Hong Kong and obtained an interview with The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald and colleagues. The Guardian has a strong Leftist bias (and has twice banned me from its "open" on-line forum!) but in June 2013 it did a very good day's work. The movie's most dramatic point is Ed's departure from his underground office in Hawaii, complete with a large set of data with which to blow the whistle, that he copied on to the key component of a thumb drive and then concealed in a Rubik's Cube to avoid detection at the exit gate.
The Hong Kong government fortunately did not respond instantly when Uncle told it to jump, so he had time to board a flight to Moscow en route for a warmer refuge in South America. Alas, the fellows in Foggy Bottom pulled his passport, so he was stranded in Russia. US-Russian relations were headed South at the time under Obama, so Putin scored a point by granting him refuge. He lives there still, though has appeared several times in the US via the Internet.
So far, Trump's laudable wish to rebuild good relations with Russia have been frustrated by members of the D.C. Sore Losers Society, but if and when he succeeds there will be one downside: part of the deal may be that Putin will cancel Ed's visa and hand him over for a US trial that could end in the death penalty. Though Trump is by far the lesser of the two 2016 evils, he's shown no intention to end the NSA surveillance nor to hail Edward Snowden as the hero he certainly is.
Ed makes it very clear towards the end of Stone's movie that he took all this action for the sake of conscience, having realized that his work had been wrong. He then appealed for others in similar work to do likewise. Clearly, the more who respond to his appeal, the less able will the NSA be to spy on us all. At the end of his Guardian interview, he said "The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change."
So far, nothing has changed. Obama welched on his election promises and kept the surveillance in place. Trump has done the same, though he never promised otherwise. Government is clearly addicted to the knowledge and control it provides, and there is only one way to end it: for employees to quit, as Snowden did. Snow White has given the example: seven more dwarves need to follow it, and then a whole lot more yet.
This is exactly the strategy of TOLFA, for the wider task of terminating the scourge of government altogether; and of the summary pages at QuitGov. If any reader of this is employed in the government surveillance industry, please: leave it, and get an honest job.