News / USA

Is NSA Leaker Edward Snowden a Traitor?

Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin met last June in Northern Ireland, but a planned summit next month is cancelled.
Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin met last June in Northern Ireland, but a planned summit next month is cancelled.
The White House has cancelled a planned summit meeting next month between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin and one of the reasons given was Moscow’s decision to grant asylum to an American who leaked top secret information.
The American, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, is wanted in the United States on espionage charges after he leaked information about how the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) monitors U.S. and international telephone and Internet traffic.  
Snowden is now living in Russia after spending more than a month in the transit area of a Moscow airport. But his plight has triggered a discussion on the issue of treason.
In other words, is Snowden a traitor?
For John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the issue is clear.
“I do consider him a traitor. He has taken vital secrets of the United States, undoubtedly given some to China, given some to Russia — Russia and China may have them all now for what we know,” Bolton told VOA.
“Some people say well that’s not really espionage, because espionage only takes place when you give it to one government,” Bolton continued. “I’d have to say making it public is worse than espionage, because then you have 190 governments that learn America’s secrets.”
David Barrett, a national security expert teaching at Villanova University, sees Snowden in a different light.
“I would regard him as a defector. There are a lot of different names that are used to describe him: whistleblower, leaker,” Barrett said. “Sure, I’d call him a defector. This is a very serious event for a person who works for an intelligence agency, who signs documents agreeing to keep things secret. I think it is a very serious thing to reveal those secrets – to leave this country and reveal these secrets.”
NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden received this temporary asylum visa to Russia on Thursday, August 1.
Defector, traitor or whistleblower?

The U.S. Justice Department has filed criminal charges against Snowden — theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person.
Snowden tries to justify his actions by saying one of the reasons he leaked the documents was to start a discussion about the U.S. government’s secret spying programs.
Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security law at American University College of Law, says those discussions would not be happening now if it weren’t for Snowden’s action.
“I think it’s a good thing that they are happening,” he said. “At the end of the day, if someone asks me ‘is Edward Snowden a criminal or a whistleblower,’ I would say ‘yes’ — he’s both. And that’s okay.
“And that goes to the larger point that we have to keep in mind that sometimes doing what’s legal and doing what’s right are not necessarily the same thing,” said Vladeck.

Precise definition
Aziz Huq, an expert on national security issues and constitutional law at the University of Chicago, says one thing is for sure: Edward Snowden is not a traitor.
“We have a very precise definition of treason in American law,” Huq said. “And it’s a definition that is embedded, not just in a federal statute; it is actually embedded in the Constitution. And it refers to a very narrow class of ‘intentional forms of aiding an enemy in times of war.’”
For example, says Huq, those Americans who fought with the Nazi army were traitors — and there were treason prosecutions and executions in World War II.
“The last person who was indicted for treason, a chap named Adam Gadahn, who is an American, who went to join al-Qaida and serve as one of their English language spokesperson — there is a very strong argument for indicting him under the treason statute because he has gone and aided, in an affirmative and intentional way, an enemy of the United States. Those conditions and those cases are nothing like Snowden’s case.”
Huq says there is something “extraordinarily inappropriate about using the word 'traitor' with respect to somebody who has disclosed information that is unquestionably relevant to the public debate.”
A majority of Americans seem to agree with Huq. A recent Quinnipiac University poll says 55 percent of those questioned believe Snowden is a whistleblower, but not a traitor.

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
Comments page of 2
by: russian
September 02, 2013 9:10 AM
I'm from Russia and I surprised of reaction of the american people on Snowden's betrayal.
If Snowden is hero, somebody can explain why he ask asylum in the Russia?
Russia has its own surveillance programm ror its own citizens, but russian programm does not require any approval from court.
Things which in USA is illigal, in Russia permitted by law. And after all Snowden gave all the secrets about american national security to russian government. Is he hero?

by: mark from: Pittsburgh
August 29, 2013 5:26 PM
Yes. He is a traitor of the first degree, and those who disagree are also traitors who are eligible for the death penalty. Please try to protect our countrie's woman and children even you are a malcontent.

by: Plenum from: France
August 12, 2013 3:34 AM
Why is it illegal to report when your government is doing something illegal?
Read the Constitution! Snowden and millions of others know that the government and corporations have colluded illegally - and some do what they can to fight against the dangerous trends occurring at many levels. Snowden should be thanked and honored for opening up an issue severely neglected by the public, the media, and within the USG itself. The problem is not the messenger, it's the much broader issue of government surveillance within the US borders and what could be done with that information in the future.

by: daniel hopsicker from: venice florida
August 11, 2013 5:52 PM
Love your provocative headline:
Is NSA Leaker Edward Snowden a Traitor? But while you're asking questions, why stop there? Should the Entire Leadership of the NSA be Charged with Violating the US Constitution? Or, at the very least, lying to Congress?

by: Ramnarayan from: Florida, USA
August 11, 2013 2:14 PM
All this discussion on whether Snowden is a traitor or a whistle blower is completely missing the point. Should the US govt. be spying on its own people as well on the rest of the world? Bush and Cheney set the stage for anything goes in the name of so called war on terror. Obama choose to continue this and ignore the ramifications as long as no one knew. What Snowden has done is to show the world how we have destroyed all what our Country has worked hard to accomplish. This is all in the name of keeping us safe. Snowden had the courage to do something to open the eyes of the world to the ugly part of govts. Let us not be too haste in pre judging him. History will judge him as someone who perhaps tried to bring accountability to interference with privacy. To me he js a hero. I blame the Obama administration and the NSA etc. for trying get away with our privacy.

by: Mai from: Torrance
August 11, 2013 4:37 AM
I totally agree with you. You're so right. Edward Snowden is a TRAITOR.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 10, 2013 12:59 PM
Snowden is surely a traitor. Reason is that he knows that USA is facing more war fronts than it had in the World Wars 1 and 2. Even if it is not mentioned, the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Middle East and USSR are more numerous than any one time war in US history. The war on terror is one war that America finds very difficult to predict or even find proper solution and definition for. And to win the war, America needs as much secret as it can get. But Edward Snowden blew up the chances of ever having an edge against Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaida or any other groups presently engaged in war with the USA, whether secretly or openly. All Edward Snowden has done is aid haters of USA - the terrorists - to know what the country is doing to track them down and so device other means of defeating and ridiculing the American Security System.

by: S. summers from: Netherlands
August 09, 2013 1:08 PM
The real traitor is the government that has sold out our constitution down the river of tyranny. Who are these select few that have decided among themselves that they have the power to spy on its own citizens. Their reasons are the same as every oppressive government throughout history. America has killed democracy and will sit across the table with other tyrants like the Chinese for 30 pieces of sliver. That silver is our freedom and the spirit of our constitution and the memory of our founding fathers. Do those in government never feel shame?

by: moose4u2
August 09, 2013 12:51 PM
the trators are in washington. FBI ,CIA ALL PENTAGON CONGRESS, SENATE, NEED AN OVERHAUL including the president . they are out of touch with reality. What we need is a revolution to kick all these traitors out. I would rather trust Snowden than our so called government. This president went on vacation to Africa which cost the American tax payer 100 million &nothing is said, the media just swept it under the rug & not a peep out of congress or senate .whats up with that????

by: James from: USA
August 09, 2013 11:51 AM
Snowden is a hero. The government as a whole is a traitor to the citizens. Taxes in the USA are higher than Britain. There is no freedom, there are only more and more rules to protect one's self everyday. They want to take our guns, they want to end protesting and they want us to slave away and pay taxes. The IRS is theft. The FDA is the reason America is the world's fattest country. They allow capitalist communism to control energy innovation. All in all, the USA is no longer United States, but rather United Stasi.
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 10, 2013 1:13 PM
Hey ames from: USA, seems you think it's time to rise and become like one of those crowds at Tahrir Squire? Have you initiated the social media call for a massive "Day Of Rage" protest for it? Or do you think massive protests are for the third world countries and the Arab Spring along?

But I think you people out there do know the truth but hate to admit it, because you can hold the government accountable for every bird that falls by the river bank, or an insect that falls into your compound, but you don't want to care how the government gets about securing your lives in the midst of overwhelming and outrageous number of terrorists that seek nothing but tears and blood on the streets of USA. Good luck you have a government that cares; when you live in any African country for a week, you will be forced to appreciate your government and God for little mercies.
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