Tracking from Hong Kong

Gunson said several friends from Arundel High began trading e-mails and Facebook messages about Snowden last week after his face showed up on front pages and newscasts. They remembered playing tennis or a darkly themed online game with Snowden.

The owner of S&S Music in Crofton said Snowden took lessons there in the mid-1990s, but the owner could not recall what instrument the boy played. (In online posts a few years later, Snowden talked about owning a guitar.)

Another fellow Scout, John Baldwin, said in an interview that Snowden, two years his junior, didn’t stand out in a troop serving the area around Fort Meade, the suburban military installation where the National Security Agency is headquartered.

“My troop fit the stereotype of having a lot of weird little guys — computer nerds who loved to run around in the woods, ” Baldwin said. Eddie “wasn’t a troublemaker or anything. Just shy and friendly.”

Classmates and neighbors said that in a place where government employees and contractors with high-level security clearances lived, it wasn’t at all odd for adults to be secretive and avoid forming close friendships, and that attitude was evident among teenagers, too.

Twenty-five miles north of the capital, concrete barriers and guard stations surround the headquarters of the nation’s biggest intelligence agency, the NSA, where an estimated 30, 000 people acquire and interpret an unimaginable torrent of information gleaned from the world’s digital, satellite and broadcast communications channels. Employees of the NSA and its corporate partners, dozens of which have offices in surrounding business parks, dominate nearby neighborhoods.

When Joshua Stewart, who grew up near Snowden and now works as a reporter at the Orange County Register, started talking to friends about the leaker, “we tried to come up with someone who didn’t have a security connection, and we couldn’t.”

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