The NSA Leaker: Traitor or Hero?

Should NSA leaker Edward Snowden be lauded or punished for his actions?

Edward Snowden.
By + More

Americans didn't have to wait long to find out who last week exposed top-secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, when the source went public Sunday. Edward Snowden, 29, formerly worked for the CIA as well as on a government contract with defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He was a low-level employee but had access to American intelligence secrets, which he revealed because he said "the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong."

Snowden is being seen as both a traitor, for revealing sensitive top-secret government information that could compromise national security, and a whistleblower for exposing what some call excessive and unconstitutional surveillance programs.

[ See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

In a rare show of bipartisan support, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress defended the NSA collection of phone and internet data and denounced Snowden's role as the leaker. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he is not a hero for disclosing information about the intelligence gathering. "I don't look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it's an act of treason," she said.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio called Snowden a traitor, and said his leak of the classified documents puts Americans at risk. "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 said. "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."

[ Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

But former senator and current chairman of the Campaign for Liberty Ron Paul cited the importance of the Fourth Amendment and said the government must be more transparent:

The government does not need to know more about what we are doing. We need to know more about what the government is doing.

We should be thankful for individuals like Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald who see injustice being carried out by their own government and speak out, despite the risk. They have done a great service to the American people by exposing the truth about what our government is doing in secret.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Americans Be Worried About the National Security Agency's Data Collection?]

Public opinion also seems to be split. Fifty-six percent of Americans said the NSA telephone call monitoring is "acceptable," and 62 percent say the government must investigate terrorist threats, even if it requires violating privacy. A petition on the White House website, however, called Snowden a national hero and called for his pardon. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 52,672 signatures.

Following the publication of the classified information, Snowden fled to Hong Kong. He was fired Tuesday by Booz Allen for violating the company's code of ethics.

What do you think? Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero-whistleblower? Take the poll and comment below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.