By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A petition to pardon Edward Snowden, who has acknowledged leaking secret documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, had attracted more than 30,000 electronic signatures by Monday evening, one day after it was posted on the White House website.
"Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs," read the petition created by "P.M." of Rochester, New York, on Sunday.
Snowden, an outside contractor for the NSA, announced in a video on Sunday from Hong Kong that he was the source of leaks about the ultra-secret agency's surveillance programs. By Monday, he had dropped out of sight and was expected to be at the center of an extradition battle to face U.S. legal charges.
The NSA has requested a criminal probe into the leaks and, on Sunday, the U.S. Justice Department said it was in the initial stages of a criminal investigation.
If the petition gains 100,000 signatures by July 9, the White House will review it, forward it to policy experts and issue an official response as part of the Obama administration's "We the People" effort to engage Americans in government.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on Snowden's status at Monday's briefing: "When it comes to the petitions, we obviously will wait a threshold being crossed before we respond to it. That threshold has not been crossed. ... Assessments are being made more broadly about the damage done here by the appropriate authorities."
The Snowden pardon petition was by far the most popular among those created recently on the White House site at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petitions, followed by one demanding President Barack Obama's resignation, with nearly 14,400 signatures.
A petition calling for the full or partial repeal of the Patriot Act "in order to stop secret, warrantless collection of data," had over 7,000 signatures.
A petition challenging Obama to a live, public debate with Snowden had just over 1,900 signatures by Monday evening, while one to free Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of passing classified files to WikiLeaks, had more than 2,000.
Manning, a U.S. Army private first class charged with the biggest leak of classified files in U.S. history, was in the second week of his court-martial on Monday at Fort Meade, Maryland.
(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Sandra Maler)