A number of polls show Americans are divided on Edward Snowden, the 28 year-old U.S. Department of Defense contractor who leaked information about the National Security Agency surveillance programs to a British newspaper. Some think Snowden is a whistleblower and a hero for exposing the activity. Others, however, believe he is a traitor who has harmed this nation’s security.
Opinions on Snowden sometimes cross ideological and political lines. Libertarians, liberals and conservatives who decried similar activity under former President George W. Bush say they are equally appalled by the Obama administration’s mining of phone data. On the other hand, Republicans who defended Bush in 2006 when a similar case was made public are now calling for congressional hearings, while Democrats who criticized Bush for his surveillance now say the latest spying is not the same thing.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has called Snowden a traitor. The representative from Tennessee’s 1st District thinks differently.
“I don’t think he’s a traitor,” Congressman Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said last week.
Pollsters say public reaction to the case is based on an individual’s thoughts on the real threat terrorism poses to the United States. A Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey released earlier this month found 56 percent of those surveyed said they believed the NSA’s tracking of Americans’ phone calls to combat terrorism to be perfectly acceptable. Another 41 percent said it isn’t.
The USA Today reported last week that opinions on whistleblowers like Snowden often differ depending on circumstances. With the help of Snowden, The Guardian and The Washington Post have recently published a series of top-secret documents detailing the government surveillance programs.
Many believe this case is not so very different from that of the Pentagon Papers, which were published by The New York Times in 1971 after being leaked by Daniel Ellsberg.
“We’ve seen this again and again,” said Stephen Kohn, director of National Whistleblowers Center and a lawyers who has defended whistleblowers, told the USA Today last week.
He said public support for a whistleblower is often connected to a political issue, which in Ellsberg’s case was opposition to the Vietnam War.
Kohn said some people who would otherwise support Snowden’s actions in principle are so concerned about terrorism that “they’ll say, at the end of the day, you can’t have civil servants or contractors acting in this way.”
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We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.