In the suburbs south of Baltimore, the younger Snowden attended public elementary and middle schools in Crofton. In the fall of 1997, he enrolled at Arundel High School, a four-year school with about 2,000 students.
At all three schools, many parents worked for the military, nearby federal agencies and the contractors serving them. But those employed at the NSA were tight-lipped, said Jerud Ryker, a math teacher who retired from Arundel in 1998. He recounted conversations over the years with people who mentioned they worked for the spy agency.
"Oh, what do you do?" Ryker says he asked. The answer was always the same: "Nothing that I can talk about."
At Arundel, Snowden stayed only through the first half of his sophomore year, a school district spokesman said. Former teachers and classmates interviewed in the days since he surfaced as the leaker said they had no recollection of him.
It's not clear why he left. Four years later, in a post Snowden wrote for the anime website jokingly explaining his irritation with cartoon convention volunteers, he wrote: "I really am a nice guy, though. You see, I act arrogant and cruel because I was not hugged enough as a child, and because the public education system turned its wretched, spiked back on me."
Years later, he "made a big deal of it (failing to finish high school), just in our everyday conversations," Mavanee Anderson, who met Snowden when they worked together in Switzerland in 2007, said in an interview with MSNBC. "I think he was slightly embarrassed by it."
With high school behind him, Snowden registered at the community college, taking for-credit classes from 1999 to 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005, as well as some non-credit classes in between, spokeswoman Laurie Farrell said. Snowden told friends and reporters that he later earned a high school GED certificate.
In 2001, Snowden's parents divorced and his father moved to Pennsylvania. The next year his mother bought a gray clapboard-sided condominium in nearby Ellicott City, Md., and her son, then 19, moved in by himself. His mother dropped by with groceries from time to time and a girlfriend visited on weekends, said Joyce Kinsey, a neighbor who lives across the street from the unit, where Snowden's mother now resides.
Otherwise, Snowden appeared most often by himself, said Kinsey, who recalled seeing him working on a computer through the open blinds "at all times of the day and night," a period that coincided with his work on the anime venture, Ryuhana Press.
During this same time, it appears Snowden became a prolific participant in a technology blog, Arstechnica, under the pseudonym TheTrueHOOHA, posting more than 750 comments between late 2001 and mid-2012. In 2002, he posted a query asking for advice about getting an information technology job in Japan and mentioned he was studying Japanese. Later he argued that by pirating poorly made software he was justly punishing companies for their ineptitude.
But he also touched on questions of security and privacy.
In one October 2003 thread, he asked so many questions about how to hide the identity of his computer server that another discussion participant asked why he was being so paranoid.
Snowden's answer: "Patriot Act. If they misinterpret that actions I perform, I could be a cyb4r terrorist and that would be very ... bad."
In another post that fall, he mulled the politics of personal identity.
"This is entirely dependent on the individual — as is the definition of freedom. Freedom isn't a word the can be (pardon) freely defined," he wrote. "The saying goes, 'Live free or die,' I believe. That seems to intimate a conditional dependence on freedom as a requirement for happiness."
In that discussion, Snowden mentioned that he had identified himself as a Buddhist in paperwork he filled out for the Army. And in May 2004, he enlisted, with aspirations of becoming a Green Beret.
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