It’s been more than two years since the National Surveillance Agency’s vast and secret surveillance network was ultimately brought to light for the first time. Still, as seen during Tuesday night’s debate in Las Vegas, Democrats remain deeply divided over the man responsible for the revelations.
The clearest division between the Democratic presidential hopefuls in Tuesday night’s debate came with regards to Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and government contractor who leaked classified documents that exposed the extent to which the American public’s privacy had been compromised in the name of national security. Snowden has been on the lam since the leak in June 2013, living as a fugitive in Russia.
To some, Snowden is seen as a hero — to others he’s a traitor. The U.S. government has formally charged him under the Espionage Act, while members of Congress have sought to reform the surveillance programs in the wake of the leaks. On Tuesday night, candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination shared views on the issue that spanned the spectrum.
Front-runner Hillary Clinton criticized Snowden for not fully seeking out proper channels and protections provided to whistleblowers. Had he done so, Clinton said, he would have likely received a “positive response” to the issues that he raised.
“In addition, he stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands,” she added. “So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.”
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee defended Snowden, arguing that federal courts had found that the U.S. government had been acting illegally. “What Snowden did showed that the American government was acting illegally for the Fourth Amendment. So I would bring him home,” he said.
“Snowden put a lot of Americans’ lives at risk. Snowden broke the law,” former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said. “Whistleblowers do not run to Russia and try to get protection from Putin. If he really believes that, he should be back here.”
Asked if he would shut down the surveillance program, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was clear: “Absolutely. Of course.”
Asked if Snowden was a hero, Sanders was less resolute: ”He did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that. But I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration.”