EXCLUSIVE - Snowden as a teen online: anime and cheeky humor

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON Thu Jun 13, 2013 2:04am IST

Photos of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), and U.S. President Barack Obama are printed on the front pages of local English and Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong in this illustration photo June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Photos of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), and U.S. President Barack Obama are printed on the front pages of local English and Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong in this illustration photo June 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Long before he became known worldwide as the NSA 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."

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.

As an adult, the former CIA employee has not left much of a digital trail on the Internet. Snowden, who turns 30 later this month, does not appear to be active on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter - at least not under his own name.

But the website of Ryuhana Press, a now defunct start-up that had 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 falls 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?"

Snowden wrote on his profile that he liked online role-playing games (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, wrote a co-worker 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, Md., next door to the National Security Agency.

(Editing by Tiffany Wu and Marilyn W. Thompson)

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