The source that publicly disclosed the Obama administration's domestic spying programs revealed himself on Sunday, just as federal authorities were preparing to hunt for him and lawmakers were debating the implications of such sweeping surveillance of Americans.
Edward Snowden, an employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked with the National Security Agency, exposed the government's widespread monitoring of U.S. phone and Internet records last week, according to the Guardian newspaper, which first reported on the spying.
"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," Snowden, 29, told the paper.
Hours before Snowden's identity was revealed, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced that authorities were about to launch the hunt for the source of last week's leaks to the Guardian and Washington Post of previously classified details about the government's covert search for terrorist cells in the U.S. Clapper said the NSA program monitoring major U.S. Internet providers was a harmless "internal government computer system" and not a threat to Americans' privacy.
But lawmakers are divided over the once-secret programs.
Liberals and conservative libertarians denounce the programs as a threat to privacy, but there is also bipartisan backing for President Obama's claim that the surveillance of phone and email records of millions of unaware Americans is necessary to detect potential terrorist threats.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., argued Sunday that the Prism program, under which the NSA monitors Internet servers inside the U.S., had thwarted potential attacks without violating citizens' privacy prior to Snowden's disclosure.
Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, credits the program with thwarting a 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway and a 2008 plan to blow up a hotel in Mumbai, India.
But Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., said that domestic spying raises concerns of government overreach without proof that it protects the nation.
"It's unclear to me that we've developed any intelligence through the metadata program that's led to the disruption of plots that we couldn't obtain through other programs," Udall said on CNN. "I expect the government to protect my privacy, and it feels like that isn't what's been happening."
Paul called on all U.S. Internet and phone companies to join a class-action lawsuit against the government.
"If we get 10 million Americans saying we don't want our phone records looked at, then maybe someone will wake up and something will change in Washington," Paul said on "Fox News Sunday."
The Obama administration considers the leaks a threat to national security and, in the past, has secretly monitored journalists to uncover their sources.
"I think we all feel profoundly offended by [the leaks]," Clapper told NBC News prior to Snowden's acknowledgement. "This is someone who, for whatever reason, has chosen to violate a sacred trust for this country. And so I hope we're able to track down whoever's doing this, because it is extremely damaging to and it affects the safety and security of this country."
Clapper said Prism is "not an undisclosed collection or data-mining program," as critics charge, but an "internal government computer system" that "does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers."