By Jill Smolowe
June 24, 2013 12:00 PM

As a teen who appeared to live largely by himself in a condo in Ellicott City, Md., Edward Snowden used to sit transfixed in front of his computer. “I could see him through his window working at all hours,” says Joyce Kinsey, a former neighbor who describes him as “a well-mannered, nice boy.” So she was stunned to learn Snowden, 30, is the $122,000 – a-year computer analyst behind two leaks that have sent the U.S. intelligence community into a tailspin. “He never drew attention to himself,” says Kinsey. “Now the whole world knows who he is.”

In an act alternately regarded as traitorous or heroic, Snowden, who has worked for the National Security Agency and the CIA, released classified documents detailing two NSA surveillance programs authorized by Congress: one that gathers the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans; another that monitors the Internet traffic of nine high-tech companies. “I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties,” Snowden told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in outing himself as the leaker. As the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation, Snowden, now overseas in hiding, was seeking to avoid extradition to the U.S., where he could face life in prison. “I do not expect to see home again,” he said.

For the last 13 months, home had been a house on Oahu, Hawaii, that he’d rented with his girlfriend, dancer Lindsay Mills. With her boyfriend’s exact whereabouts unknown, “my world has opened and closed all at once,” read a blog entry that appears to be by Mills dated June 10. “Leaving me lost at sea without a compass… At the moment all I can feel is alone.” Neighbor Angel Cunanan says the couple never really unpacked, noting, “When the garage door opened, it was boxes everywhere.” Now Snowden told the Guardian, “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family.” In Maryland his mother, Wendy, had a poignant response. “Last night,” says Kinsey, “was the first time his mom ever drew her curtains.”