A weathered American flag sticker on the front window of the Waipahu neighborhood where fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden lived until recently fleeing to Hong Kong reads: “Freedom isn’t free.”
The 29-year-old may prove to be one of the most consequential whistleblowers in years, if not decades, for orchestrating intelligence leaks that have left the Obama administration defending widespread domestic monitoring of American citizens.
In some ways, Snowden is already paying, having given up his dream life on Oahu for a hotel room in Hong Kong where he expressed grave concern for his safety. In an extensive video interview with The Guardian, Snowden explained that he doesn’t expect to ever return to his old life, and that is a notable sacrifice.
“You live a privileged life, you’re living in Hawaii, in paradise and making a ton of money,” Snowden told the Guardian.
“What would it take to make you leave everything behind?”
From afar, Edward Snowden had a life that people across America might envy. The whistleblower left his spacious home with vaulted ceilings on Oahu, his girlfriend and a salary that he says was around $200,000 per year. His career working for American intelligence is also almost certainly over.
Snowden says that he did not do it for money, but rather of a love for his nation’s core values, and he hopes that his actions will make America a better place.
Online and among commentators, plenty of people wonder if he is lying about his motivations, whether he is misguided, or whether he is a self-sacrificing protector of core American liberties. The answers to such questions are only likely to become clear in the coming days, weeks or months ahead, if ever.
In the meantime, Civil Beat spent the day looking into what little is known about his former life on Oahu. Until recently, Snowden rented a house in a Waipahu neighborhood.
Alia Wong/Civil Beat
Whistleblower Edward Snowden rented this house in Waipahu.
The light-blue home sits in a quiet suburban neighborhood of tree-lined streets. A “For Sale” sign was posted out front. The front door was unlocked and real estate agent Kerri Jo Heim was holding an “open house.”
The owner has listed the house for $555,000. The whistleblower, who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton on behalf of National Security Agency operations on Oahu, lived in the comfortable 1,559-square-foot home.
The street-corner residence — which is on sale with furniture in it, including plush carpet and a ceiling fan — is comfortable, but hardly luxurious.
The neighborhood is a tight-knit community where most residents on the block know each other by name and regularly stop to chat on the street. None had met Snowden, and none could say what his girlfriend’s name was.
Several people described the couple as quiet and aloof, and as usually having their window blinds closed. Neighbors just assumed that they were like the other military men and women; little stood out about them.
Neighbors did, however, wonder about the dozens of storage boxes that had been packed into the garage, filling it floor-to-ceiling, from the time they arrived. They also noticed the Maryland license plates on the couple’s cars.
The only clear sign of Snowden’s passage at the house, whose interior has been fixed up for sale, is the small sticker that remains in the traditional black mailbox out front. That sticker, written by hand, shows the home’s address, as well as the name “Snowden.”
Alia Wong/Civil Beat
A real estate agent happened to be holding an open house on the day news broke about Snowden
Several neighbors noted that when the couple moved out, before his May 20 flight to Hong Kong, they did not alert anyone or say goodbye.
One day, they were just gone.
Neighbors were shocked to discover that their anonymous neighbor has been identified as the source of one of the most significant intelligence leaks in recent history.
Even the real estate agent, Kerri Jo Heim, had no idea until hearing information from reporters who showed up while she was trying to sell the place.
But Heim did remember hearing that two police officers — one plainclothes and one in uniform — had come to the house a few days earlier, asking about Snowden’s whereabouts.
She said that the police spoke with the owner of the home who responded by saying that Snowden had left Oahu to seek medical treatment, which is what he also reportedly told his bosses. (Snowden told The Guardian that he suffers from epilepsy.)
While many journalists initially assumed that Snowden just bailed on his girlfriend and his life in Hawaii, the real estate agent said that the owner of the house actually asked Snowden and his girlfriend to move out so that he could sell the place.
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