News / USA

Is Former NSA Contractor Snowden a Traitor?

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The Russian government recently granted former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden a three-year residency permit. He is wanted in the United States on espionage charges after revealing key intelligence documents. 

As an intelligence contractor with the National Security Agency, Snowden had access to thousands of secret documents. Last year, he started leaking to newspapers classified material dealing with the NSA’s worldwide surveillance programs. 

He first fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he was granted asylum for one year. Now Russian authorities have extended his stay for three years, providing him with a residency permit. 

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden participates via satellite in the 2014 Personal Democracy Forum, at New York University, June 5, 2014 in New York.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden participates via satellite in the 2014 Personal Democracy Forum, at New York University, June 5, 2014 in New York.

Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security law at American University, said he is not surprised by Russia’s action.

“Because he really is still very much a thorn in the side of the American intelligence community. And most importantly, what this means in practice is that Snowden now has a place to stay until after the end of the Obama administration,” said Vladeck, “by which point the politics surrounding him and the potential that he might return to the United States could be very, very different.”

Is Snowden a traitor?

Snowden’s actions and Moscow’s decision to grant him a residency permit have reignited discussion as to whether or not Snowden is a traitor.

“In my personal view, he is a traitor because he violated his secrecy agreements, because no single individual should have the option to put his own conscience or decisions about what’s proper above the law," said Richard Betts, a national security expert at Columbia University. "And I believe he’s done damage to what I consider to be reasonable intelligence collection activities of the U.S. government.”

But Vladeck takes a different view. 

“I don’t think that there is any evidence that Snowden committed treason," he said. "Treason is a very specific crime defined by U.S. law as requiring the levying of war against the United States. Whatever we think of Snowden, he may very well be a criminal. There is no question that he violated the Espionage Act. He may very well be a patriot - that’s a moral judgment. The one thing that I think we all should agree on is he is not a traitor. Traitor is a very specific legal term and there is just no evidence that is applicable in this case.”

1917 espionage law 

Vladeck said the Espionage Act was passed in 1917 just as the United States entered World War l. It dealt with what was known as "classic spying" - for example, an agent of a foreign nation spying on the U.S.

The problem with the Espionage Act, said Vladeck, is that it’s too old.

“And so the Espionage Act today takes three very different activities - classic spying, 'leaking' and whistleblowing - and treats them all the same in any case in which they involve the transmission of national security information to someone who is not authorized to receive it.”

Vladeck and other experts say the Espionage Act has been used sparingly. But in the last several years, they say, it has reappeared as a weapon that the U.S. government has been using in trying to clamp down on leaks of classified information.  

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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Comment Sorting
by: Tweneboah kodua from: Ghana
August 17, 2014 8:22 AM
snowden is a person who respect human right as US always preach and evangelize about it.granting gay rights and more why should the go ahead to take public data without their notice which is very unfair. and the key words which makes someone a terrorist is against human right,e.g a traitor .and even more death still occur in the US which got unnoticed and more so why the significant of taking peoples private data.

by: Cognisenti
August 14, 2014 11:23 AM
Edward Snowden's actions are camouflaged with great skill in an attempt to explain away his actions in his expose tell all campaign, which has no end and will continue to be released into the public domain.These are not the actions of a patriot, rather that of an individual who has "sold his soul". Utterly tragic irrespective of what he claims to be the real truth, behind his actions.

by: Lou from: Atlanta
August 14, 2014 7:54 AM
I'd have a hard time doing what he did for that kind of money ($200,000 a year). Also he might never see his family ever again. But he must have been very passionate about it to do it!

by: Anonymous
August 13, 2014 7:57 PM
Terrible, loaded headline. Try, "Is Edward Snowden a Traitor -- or Patriot?" (Quite a few people think it's the latter.)

by: Mark from: Virginia
August 13, 2014 6:31 PM
A traitor, a patriot...I don't know and frankly do not care. Snowden is worse than the Kardashians in that he has to have his name mentioned in the press, or his face on some webpage/magazine/television to remind everyone (who only want to forget him) that he is still a bad penny that keeps turning up... a bad piece of luggage you can never truly be rid of, no matter how hard you try.

by: Ray Clark
August 13, 2014 1:46 PM
Snowden is a traitor, and if he would man up and come back to this country we can have a trial and prove it.

by: max ajida from: pretoria, South Africa
August 13, 2014 1:24 PM
Snowden is a traitor no matter how USA law define it. His leaks has weaken US intelligence system automatically. US had suffered the waste terrorist attack and revealing how it conducts its intelligence betraying the nation. Let me say direct enemies of US to change their tactics. That leads exposing Americans to terrorists. Snowden is a hero to Americans' enemies at the expense of Americans taxpayers money that fed him.

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