Edward Snowden: Hero Or Traitor?

Demonstrators hold signs supporting Edward Snowden in New York's Union Square Park, Monday, June 10, 2013.
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On Sunday, 29 year-old government contractor Edward Snowden outed himself as the man responsible for leaking classified documents about secret National Security Agency programs to the Guardian and Washington Post. The documents, which showed that the government has been collecting massive amounts of personal phone records from millions of Americans, triggered national debate over whether the government is within their legal rights to collect this information, even if in the name of national security.

As the public learns more about Snowden himself and his motives for the leak, politicians and pundits were quick to place him in one of two categorizes: hero or traitor. 

Here’s a round-up of some reactions on Monday to Snowden’s actions:


  • New Yorker staff writer John Cassidy wrote a piece Monday anointing Snowden a hero, saying that he “has performed a great public service that more than outweighs any breach of trust he may have committed.”

  • Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, called Snowden a hero he’s been waiting for the last 40 years.
  • Filmmaker Michael Moore called Snowden an American hero on his Twitter account.

  • Conservative radio commentator Glenn Beck also took to Twitter to call Snowden a “real hero.”
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with Britain’s SkyNews that “Edward Snowden is a hero who has informed the public about one of the most serious events of the decade.”
  • Former presidential candidate Ron Paul issued a statement, saying “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.”
  • The Atlantics James Fallows credited Snowden with instilling “democratic accountability. The debate on the limits of the security-state is long overdue, and Edward Snowden has played an important role in hastening its onset.”
  • Nearly 30,000 people have signed an online White House petition saying that Snowden is a national hero and should be “immediately issued a a full, free, and absolute pardon.”
  • Snowden supporters have already raised more than $8,000 online to reward him for “courageously leaking” the NSA documents.


  • In an interview with Andrea Mitchell, National Intelligence Director James Clapper called the act “gut-wrenching.” “For me it is literally, not figuratively, literally, gut-wrenching to see this happen, because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities,” he added

  • New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin didn’t mince his words for Snowden: “[He is] a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham R-SC) tweeted that the leak was “potentially” a felony.

  • Paul Pillar, a longtime CIA vet and member of the Center for Peace and Security Studies, told TPM in a phone interview Monday, “If I were in the White House or Justice Department I would do everything in my power to bring him to justice… And if it requires using any of our chits with the Chinese on extradition matters… I think we should.”
  • Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee, said the government must prosecute Snowden to the full extent of the law. “The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence.”
  • John Yoo, former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Bush White House, penned an op-ed saying that Snowden should go to jail “as quickly and for as long as possible.”
  • Michael Mukasey, President George W. Bush’s former attorney general, said on Fox & Friends that he would prosecute Snowden in a “New York minute.”



Correction: This post originally stated that the government was also collecting “email data” from millions of Americans, but the exact scope of the NSA program in question, PRISM, remains unknown and its impact on American citizens uncertain.

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