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The young contractor behind leaks exposing America's surveillance programs tried but failed to join the US Army's elite special forces in 2004, officials said Monday.
Edward Snowden, 29, has revealed himself as the source for sensational revelations in The Guardian and The Washington Post on how US spy agencies trawl through phone records and Internet traffic looking for possible terror threats.
The government contractor served as a private first class in the US Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, said Colonel David Patterson, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
"He attempted to qualify to become a Special Forces soldier but did not complete the requisite training and was administratively discharged from the Army," he added in a statement.
US Army spokesman George Wright said Snowden enlisted on May 7, 2004 and was discharged on September 28, 2004. He did not receive any awards during his service.
Snowden told The Guardian his military career ended after he broke both his legs in a "training accident."
A recruit seeking to be selected for US Special Operations Forces would first have to go through a 10-week basic combat training course, like all infantry, then a three-week jump school.
After that, the recruit would go through a 19-day screening "to determine if he has the potential to be a Special Forces soldier," Wright said.
It was unclear how far Snowden had progressed when he was discharged, officials said.
Snowden told The Guardian he joined the military to fight in the Iraq war.
"I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression," he said.
But, he said, "most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone."
Snowden later got a job as a security guard for the National Security Agency, which oversees eavesdropping and code-breaking, before later working as an IT expert doing contract work for the NSA.