The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee condemned as traitorous the unauthorized release of top-secret information about National Security Agency (NSA) data-mining operations. Even while thousands of Americans signed a petition urging President Obama to pardon the contractor who leaked classified documents about the program — and Republican Sen. Rand Paul slammed the NSA’s surveillance as unconstitutional — Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined other lawmakers urging the prosecution of Edward Snowden.
“I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower, I think it’s an act of treason,” the California Democrat told reporters on Capitol Hill. “He took an oath — that oath is important. He violated the oath, he violated the law. It’s an act of treason in my view.”
Debate swirled over the constitutionality of the NSA program Snowden exposed, but Feinstein’s condemnations of the leaker were echoed by Republicans, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham: “I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice.” And in an interview with ABC News, House Speaker John Boehner called Snowden a “traitor,” adding: “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”
The Ohio Republican said he had been briefed on details of the NSA counter-terrorism program and — in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in Washington — cited Obama as an authority on the lawfulness of the surveillance. “The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools to fight the terrorist threat that we face,” Boehner told ABC. “The president also outlined that there are appropriate safeguards in place to make sure that there’s no snooping, if you will, on Americans here at home.”
Describing a “balancing act” between the government’s responsibility to keep Americans safe and to protect their privacy, Boehner said: “There’s no American who’s gonna be snooped on in any way, unless they’re in contact with some terrorists somewhere around the world. … And every time that I’ve been in a briefing, nine of the ten people in a room are lawyers, there to protect the privacy of the American people.”
No ‘Safe Harbor’ for Snowden in Hong Kong; Russia Suggests Asylum
Even as lawmakers of both parties defended the NSA program and condemned the fugitive intelligence contractor whose revelations made international headlines last week, supporters called for Obama to issue “a full, free, and absolute pardon” to Snowden “for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.” By Tuesday morning, the online pro-Snowden petition at the White House “We the People” site had gathered more than 45,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, the man at the center of the controversy went underground again. Snowden surfaced over the weekend in Hong Kong to claim credit for exposing the NSA program, on which he said he worked as an employee of the private contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. After he checked out of the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong on Monday, however, Snowden’s whereabouts were unknown. He had previously spoken of seeking asylum overseas, but a Hong Kong official said there would be no “safe harbor” for Snowden there. The FBI’s Washington field office will supervise the investigation of Snowden’s case, U.S. authorities told the New York Times, which quoted one anonymous federal official saying there would be “no hesitation” to bring criminal charges against the 29-year-old computer specialist.
Snowden has moved to another Hong Kong hotel “to keep his location secret,” according to the British Guardian newspaper, which first published information based on the classified documents Snowden illegally obtained from a top-secret NSA facility in Hawaii. The Guardian also reported that a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin had suggested Russia might offer asylum to the fugitive American. “If such an appeal is given, it will be considered. We’ll act according to facts,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Russian newspaper in what the Guardian described as “the Kremlin’s latest move to woo critics of the west.”
Adding to the Hollywood spy-thriller aspects of the story, the London Daily Mail reported that when Snowden absconded to Hong Kong, he left behind in Hawaii a heartbroken girlfriend who just happens to be a long-legged blonde ballerina-turned-acrobat. Lindsay Mills, 28, wrote on her personal blog she felt “lost at sea without a compass” writing “on my tear-streaked keyboard.” Revealing photos of Mills in stockings and lingerie quickly became an Internet sensation.
Snowden: ‘Fear of Omniscient State Powers’
More information about Snowden’s background has emerged in the two days since he made his identity public as the source of NSA leaks. The Washington Post reported that Snowden had made contributions to the Republican presidential campaign of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, an outspoken critic of U.S. national security policies. Marc Thiessen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute called attention to echoes of the Texas congressman’s message in Snowden’s quoted comments about a “surveillance state”:
[Snowden] rails against “the dangerous truth behind the U.S. policies that seek to develop secret, irresistible powers and concentrate them in the hands of an unaccountable few.”
He declares that “At this point in history, the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient State powers kept in check by nothing but policy documents.”
A group called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee sent an e-mail soliciting contributions for a legal defense of Snowden, praising the contractor’s “courage” and saying, “This hero will need our support.”
Talk of Snowden as a “hero” was rejected by former military intelligence officer Ralph Peters. Appearing on Fox News, Peters criticized the celebration of the NSA leaker. “Now you’ve got this 29-year-old high school dropout … making foreign policy for our country, our security policy,” said Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “And this guy, I think it’s sad …. we’ve made treason cool. Betraying your country’s kind of a fashion statment. [Snowden] wants to be the national security Kim Kardashian. He cites Bradley Manning as a hero.” Manning is an Army private who is being court-martialed for his 2010 leaks of classified information. For both Manning and Snowden, Peters said, “We need to get very, very serious about treason … bring back the death penalty.”
Meanwhile, the federal contracting firm that had hired Snowden to work at NSA said he was fired Monday. Snowden had told the Guardian that he was paid $200,000 a year as an employee of Booz Allen, but the firm said in a statement to reporters Tuesday that Snowden’s salary was actually $122,000 a year. “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter,” Booz Allen said in the statement, adding that Snowden only worked three months for the contractor.
- Jeremy Herb, The Hill: NSA leak is treason, says Feinstein
- Kevin Johnson and Zach Coleman, USA Today: U.S. explores criminal charges against Snowden
- ABC News: Transcript: Exclusive Interview With House Speaker John Boehner on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More
- We the People (petition): Pardon Edward Snowden
- Jeremy Herb, The Hill: 20,000 sign petition urging Obama to pardon NSA whistle-blower
- Michael S. Schmidt, Eric Schmitt and Keith Bradsher, New York Times: U.S. Preparing Charges Against Leaker of Data
- Miriam Elder, Guardian: Edward Snowden: Russia offers to consider asylum request
- Marc Thiessen, American Enterprise Institute: Edward Snowden, leaker of NSA documents, is a Ron Paul fan
- Kevin Bohn, CNN: Progressive group fundraises for NSA leaker’s legal defense
- The Right Scoop: “We’ve made treason cool” Lt. Col. Ralph Peters on NSA leaker: We need to bring back the death penalty for treason
- David Edwards, Raw Story: Fox News analyst: ‘Bring back the death penalty’ for NSA leaker
- Oliver Knox, Yahoo News: Booz Allen: We fired NSA leaker on Monday