The White House has declined to comment on the revelation of the identity of former CIA employee Edward Snowden, who leaked information about top secret U.S. government surveillance programs.
On Sunday, Snowden, a 29-year-old technician who worked for the CIA and later as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), outed himself in interviews with The Guardian
newspaper and The Washington Post
Snowden said he disclosed secret documents to protect "basic liberties for people around the world." In a video interview with The Guardian
, he acknowledged he could face prosecution, but he said he felt compelled to take the actions he did.
"Over time, that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about it, and the more you talk about it the more you are ignored, the more you are told it's not a problem, until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public, not by somebody who was simply hired by the government," he said.
The revelations were about "PRISM," an NSA program that gathers huge amounts of metadata from Internet companies, although intelligence officials say it does not target American citizens.
Another program collects data about phone calls. President Obama has said this does not mean authorities listen to Americans' phone conversations, which would require further approval by a special intelligence court.
Press Secretary Jay Carney declined Monday to comment specifically about Snowden, noting that the Department of Justice is investigating the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
"The programs we have discussed because of the leaks that have happened lately, while legitimate subject of debate and discussion, we talk about the balance necessary," said Carney. "All involve court approval; they involve congressional review and oversight."
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the intelligence community is reviewing "damage from recent disclosures," adding that "any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law."
There is now intense new debate across the United States about tradeoffs between security and privacy, and what many Americans consider unconstitutional government intrusions.
Last week, President Obama said Americans cannot expect 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy. He said the programs are under strict supervision, and that leaks increase vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
"Our goal is to stop folks from doing us harm, and if every step that we are taking to try to prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people who are trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures," he said.
A recent Rasmussen poll found that 68 percent of Americans believe the government is listening to their telephone conversations, with 59 percent of likely voters opposing the practice of collecting phone data.
Since Snowden revealed his identity as the source of the leak, a petition supporting him and calling him a "national hero" and asking President Obama to pardon him was posted on a petition forum on the White House website.
Jay Carney declined any specific comment on the petition other than to note that guidelines require petitions to have at least 100,000 signatures before the White House issues a response.