Daniel Doherty

Edward Snowden swore an oath not to divulge classified information. He did anyway, of course, and seems to have no moral qualms about doing so. On the other hand, the intelligence he leaked to the Guardian was deeply unsettling and should send chills up the spines of every American who uses modern technology – although I suspect most people would agree they’d rather know they’re being snooped on than be kept in the dark.

Regardless of which side of the traitor/hero divide you find yourself in alignment, one thing is absolutely clear: the public at large doesn’t really know what to make of this guy…yet:

Some 23 percent of those surveyed said former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is a traitor while 31 percent said he is a patriot. Another 46 percent said they did not know.

Snowden, 29, revealed last week that the NSA is monitoring a wide swath of telephone and Internet activity as part of its counterterrorism efforts.

"I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," Snowden told the South China Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, in an interview published on Wednesday.

U.S. authorities have said they are weighing possible criminal charges against Snowden, who was an employee of Virginia-based consultant Booz Allen Hamilton when he leaked documents indicating the NSA's surveillance of Americans is much broader than had been disclosed publicly.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 35 percent of those surveyed said Snowden should not face charges while 25 percent said he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Another 40 percent said they did not know.

No one disputes that Snowden is “an American” by definition (even though it’s unlikely he’ll return to the United States anytime soon unless extradited). But is he a “traitor,” as House Speaker John Boehner recently asserted? If he isn’t -- and he very well might not be -- why on earth did he tell a Chinese newspaper that the U.S. is conducting cyber operations against universities in Hong Kong and the nation of China? I know this isn’t exactly “news” -- but how does disclosing this kind of information not harm the national security interests of the United States? Well, it does seem to, as Allahpundit explained this past week:

[H]is whole point in his Guardian interview with Greenwald, though, was that he’s not out to hurt American interests, merely to clue his fellow citizens into something the government’s doing to them that should concern them. Yakking to a Chinese paper about U.S. cyberespionage proves that that’s not quite true. He’s also out to embarrass the U.S. by revealing stuff that’ll raise tensions with other nations, even if the stuff he’s revealing is supported by most Americans.

It’s not quite clear to me what the motivations here are quite yet. Is he a disgruntled former government employee who’s trying to “stick it” to the man? Or is he a patriotic citizen speaking truth to power -- hell bent on making his government accountable to its citizens? Perhaps it’s a combination of the two -- or perhaps I’m wrong on both counts. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what’s really going on inside this man’s head as more information becomes available to us.


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography