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Hiding, but still a hero

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Edward Snowden's revelations about government surveillance transformed him into a champion of the people world over, but left him on the run.

One wonders how Edward Snowden celebrated his 30th birthday on June 21. The American technical contractor or infrastructure analyst - depending on whose version you want - may not have been able to call the party to Hong Kong, where he'd been holed up since he dropped the bomb on America's global public surveillance projects, but the US government believes he really did take the cake - or classified state secrets, if you will.

Snowden, who is presently facing an uncertain future in the transit lounge of Russia's Sheremetyevo airport, is miles from his hometown in North Carolina. The 30-year-old, who exposed US and UK mass scrutiny programmes, first made headlines in May when The Guardian printed his inculpatory revelations. By that time, Snowden had wisely sought leave from his contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, a technology consulting firm servicing the National Security Agency (NSA) and exited Hawaii, where he was based, claiming to seek treatment for epilepsy. He didn't even reveal the reason for his exit to his live-in girlfriend, Lindsay Mills.

Snowden began his career with the American state as ally and supporter, when in 2004 he joined the army as a Special Forces Recruit, intending to fight the war in Iraq. He had to discontinue training when he broke both legs in an accident. He was soon recruited as an NSA security guard at the University of Maryland and from there made it to the CIA as IT security staff. A self-declared computer whiz, Snowden applied for, but did not complete, an online Master's degree in computer security. That apparently did not compromise his ability to penetrate secure systems.

He may now be a thorn in America's dark side, but to almost half the world polled, he's the spectacled figure of heroism, although Snowden has tweeted that he sees himself simply as an American, not a hero or a traitor.

He may be out of sight, but he still comes through loud and relentless on his soapbox Twitter, from where he continues his volley against state chicanery. The state in the meanwhile is seeking his extradition so he can face trial for charges of espionage and theft of government property. With his time in the Russian transit lounge running out, and his plea for asylum denied by 21 countries, Snowden may have to give in and return to America. It may just be a one-way run.

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