U.S. News

Snowden as a teen online: anime and cheeky humor

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Long before he became known worldwide as the National Security Agency contractor who exposed top-secret U.S. government surveillance programs, Edward Snowden worked for a Japanese anime company run by friends and went by the nicknames “The True HOOHA” and “Phish.”

A combination photo shows (from left to right) an avatar posted beside Edward Snowden's biography, him wearing a hoodie, and putting a clothespin on his chest for fellow employees when he worked as a webmaster and editor for a Japanese anime company run by friends in Maryland in 2002. REUTERS/as posted to by an online user in 2002, via Reuters

In 2002, he was 18 years old, a high school dropout and his parents had just divorced. On the tiny anime company’s website, he wrote of his skills with video games and popularity with women.

In an online forum eight years later, he apparently again used the screen name “The True HOOHA” in a discussion of surveillance by a private computer company for the government.

“It really concerns me how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles,” the post from 2010 reads. “Society really seems to have developed an unquestioning obedience towards spooky types.”

Snowden, a former CIA employee who turns 30 later this month, does not appear to be otherwise active on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter - at least not under his own name.

But the website of Ryuhana Press, a defunct start-up that sold anime art, offers a glimpse of Snowden as a youth. As its web editor, Snowden’s profile page is a mix of truth, sarcasm and silly jokes.

For example, he listed his correct birthday - June 21, 1983 - and noted that it fell on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. But he also claimed to be 37 years old and to have fathered two preteen children.

“I really am a nice guy,” Snowden wrote on his profile page. “You see, I act arrogant and cruel because I was not hugged enough as a child, and because the public education system turned it’s (sic) wretched, spiked back on me.”

Reuters viewed the website on Tuesday and contacted former company employees for comment. On Wednesday, the website had been taken down.

Snowden wrote that he favored purple sunglasses and praised the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

“I like my girlish figure that attracts girls,” he wrote, “and I like my lamer friends. That’s the best biography you’ll get out of me, coppers!”


Photographs uploaded by friends for Snowden’s 19th birthday show a young man pulling down his pants for his colleagues, putting a clothespin on his chest, and dancing. A blog entry from a company employee teased: “Who is he? What does he do? Does he really love himself as much as his shameless marketing would have you believe?”

Within years, he took a job as a security guard at the NSA and by age 23, Snowden was working undercover overseas for the CIA on classified computer systems. He went to work for a private contractor in 2005, congressional officials said Wednesday.

In postings a year later on the Ars Technica internet message board, he apparently again used “The True HOOHA” screen name. The later Ars Technica postings were first reported by the New York blogger Anthony De Rosa.

He wrote that he joined the CIA for the opportunity to travel abroad. He also wrote about his concerns regarding government wiretapping. In 2006, “TheTrueHOOHA” wrote: “NSA’s new surveillance program. That’s the sound of freedom, citizen!”

In the earlier postings as an 18-year-old, Snowden wrote on his profile that he liked online role-playing games, or RPG. “I always wanted to write RPG campaigns with my spare time, but I’ll get about three missions in and scrap the world for my next, better, powergamin’ build.”

He joked that he “got bullied” into being an editor on the website by a gaggle of artists and “beautiful nubile young girls.”

Snowden said he liked playing the popular fighting video game Tekken. He was so skilled that he attracted a gathering of fans at the 2002 Anime USA convention, a co-worker wrote on another part of the site. “He tends to spontaneously be a ray of sunshine and inspiration. He’s a great listener, and he’s eager to help people improve themselves.”

The co-worker did not reply to inquiries from Reuters on Wednesday. Ryuhana closed in 2004 as the primary proprietors went off to college and opened a new business in California, according to the website. Other contributors to the site could not be reached for comment.

The defunct company listed an address in Fort Meade, Maryland, next door to the NSA.

Editing by Tiffany Wu and Peter Cooney