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Commentary on Edward Snowden's disclosure


Commentary on Edward Snowden's disclosure is part of the Reactions to global surveillance disclosures made by Edward Snowden.

On June 8, 2013, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper denounced as "reckless" the disclosures of "intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe." He condemned the leaks as having done "huge, grave damage" to the U.S. intelligence capabilities.

Later that month, U.S. President Barack Obama was dismissive of Snowden, saying, "I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker." In early August, Obama said that Snowden was no patriot and that Americans would have been better off if they had remained unaware of the NSA surveillance activities that Snowden revealed. Obama also said that he had "called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks.... My preference, and I think the American people's preference, would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws; a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place."

On August 4, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said on the weekly ABC interview show This Week that Snowden "has caused us some considerable damage to our intelligence architecture. Our adversaries are changing the way that they communicate."

In September, DNI Clapper acknowledged that Snowden may have done a public service and started a needed debate about the balance between privacy and security. "As loath as I am to give any credit for what's happened here, which was egregious, I think it's clear that some of the conversations that this has generated, some of the debate, actually probably needed to happen," he said. "It's unfortunate they didn't happen some time ago, but if there's a good side to this, that's it."

On January 29, 2014, DNI Clapper gave public testimony to a session of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He asked that "Snowden and his accomplices" return the purloined NSA documents. When Clapper was asked whether the word "accomplices" referred to journalists, Clapper's spokesperson Shawn Turner responded, "Director Clapper was referring to anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs."



  • June 10–11, 2013: Gallup poll showed 44 percent of Americans thought it was right for Snowden to share the information with the press while 42 percent thought it was wrong.
  • June 12–16: USA Today/Pew Research poll found that 49 percent thought the release of information served the public interest while 44 percent thought it harmed it. The same poll found that 54 percent felt a criminal case should be brought against Snowden, and 38 percent disagreed.
  • June 12–16: The Washington Post-ABC News poll cited 43 percent of respondents saying Snowden ought to be charged with a crime, while 48 percent said he ought not.
  • June 17–18: Rasmussen Reports found that 12 percent of American adults viewed Snowden as a hero, while 21 percent considered him a traitor.
  • June 15–July 1: The Economist/YouGov poll tracked public opinion over three consecutive weekends, comparing results from June 15–17, June 22–24 and June 29–July 1. Asked their view of Snowden, respondents indicating "favorable" rose from 40 percent to 42 percent then down to 36 percent. "Unfavorable" grew steadily from 39 percent to 41 percent to 43 percent. Those supporting his prosecution increased from 27 percent to 34 percent and held there; those opposed steadily declined from 32 percent to 31 percent to 25 percent.
  • July 1–2: The Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 38 percent of Americans thought Snowden did the wrong thing, 33 percent said he did the right thing, and 29 percent were unsure.
  • June 28–July 8: Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey found that 55 percent of Americans regarded Snowden as a whistleblower while 34 percent saw him as a traitor. When Quinnipiac repeated the poll from July 28–31, the results were unchanged.
  • July 28–29: Among likely U.S. voters surveyed by Rasmussen Reports, 32 percent considered Snowden a traitor who endangered lives and national security, whereas 11 percent called him a hero.
  • November 14–17: The Washington Post-ABC News poll found a significant shift in opinion as to whether or not Snowden ought to be charged with a crime. In contrast to the same organizations' June poll, November's results showed 52 percent favoring his prosecution (up from 43 percent) and 38 percent opposed (down from 48 percent). Similarly, when asked whether, irrespective of his being charged with a crime, Snowden was right or wrong to disclose the NSA intelligence-gathering efforts, 37 percent said he was right and 55 percent said he was wrong. All told, nearly two to one (60 percent versus 32 percent) thought Snowden's disclosures had harmed U.S. national security.
  • January 15–19, 2014: USA Today/Pew Research poll reported little change from the previous June on the question of the government pursuing a criminal case against Snowden, with 56 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed. The poll found that people younger than 30 offered the least support for prosecution, being evenly divided at 42 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. Over all age groups, opinion was also nearly equally divided as to whether or not Snowden's disclosures had served the public interest: 45 percent said yes, while 43 percent said Snowden harmed the public interest.
  • January 18–20: The Economist/YouGov poll likewise found Americans evenly split, with 43 percent viewing Snowden favorably and 41 percent unfavorably; 46 percent approving his leaks and 43 percent disapproving; 28 percent supporting his prosecution and 29 percent opposed.
  • January 22: CBS News poll revealed a larger split (almost 3:1) as to whether or not Snowden ought to stand trial for his actions, with 61 percent in favor and 23 percent saying he should be granted amnesty. CBS News also differed from Pew Research on the issue of whether or not Snowden's disclosures had been good for the country, with 40 percent saying yes and 46 percent saying it had been bad. When asked to come up with a word that best describes Snowden, nearly a quarter of respondents volunteered either "traitor" or a similar word questioning his loyalty to his country, while 8 percent said he is "brave" or "courageous" or "a hero." Just 2 percent volunteered that he is a "patriot" or "patriotic," and another 2 percent said "terrorist."
  • January 22–25: NBC News/The Wall Street Journal Survey found continued low public approval for Snowden, with 23 percent supporting what he did, 37 percent opposing it, and 39 percent expressing no opinion.
  • March 26–28: The Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 31 percent thought Snowden was right to leak top-secret information about government surveillance programs to the media, while 33 percent believed he was wrong; 45 percent favored his prosecution, with 34 percent opposed; and 35 percent would support a presidential pardon, with 43 percent opposed.
  • June 10–11, 2013: Gallup poll showed 44 percent of Americans thought it was right for Snowden to share the information with the press while 42 percent thought it was wrong.
  • June 12–16: USA Today/Pew Research poll found that 49 percent thought the release of information served the public interest while 44 percent thought it harmed it. The same poll found that 54 percent felt a criminal case should be brought against Snowden, and 38 percent disagreed.
  • June 12–16: The Washington Post-ABC News poll cited 43 percent of respondents saying Snowden ought to be charged with a crime, while 48 percent said he ought not.
  • June 17–18: Rasmussen Reports found that 12 percent of American adults viewed Snowden as a hero, while 21 percent considered him a traitor.
  • June 15–July 1: The Economist/YouGov poll tracked public opinion over three consecutive weekends, comparing results from June 15–17, June 22–24 and June 29–July 1. Asked their view of Snowden, respondents indicating "favorable" rose from 40 percent to 42 percent then down to 36 percent. "Unfavorable" grew steadily from 39 percent to 41 percent to 43 percent. Those supporting his prosecution increased from 27 percent to 34 percent and held there; those opposed steadily declined from 32 percent to 31 percent to 25 percent.
  • July 1–2: The Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 38 percent of Americans thought Snowden did the wrong thing, 33 percent said he did the right thing, and 29 percent were unsure.
  • June 28–July 8: Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey found that 55 percent of Americans regarded Snowden as a whistleblower while 34 percent saw him as a traitor. When Quinnipiac repeated the poll from July 28–31, the results were unchanged.
  • July 28–29: Among likely U.S. voters surveyed by Rasmussen Reports, 32 percent considered Snowden a traitor who endangered lives and national security, whereas 11 percent called him a hero.
  • November 14–17: The Washington Post-ABC News poll found a significant shift in opinion as to whether or not Snowden ought to be charged with a crime. In contrast to the same organizations' June poll, November's results showed 52 percent favoring his prosecution (up from 43 percent) and 38 percent opposed (down from 48 percent). Similarly, when asked whether, irrespective of his being charged with a crime, Snowden was right or wrong to disclose the NSA intelligence-gathering efforts, 37 percent said he was right and 55 percent said he was wrong. All told, nearly two to one (60 percent versus 32 percent) thought Snowden's disclosures had harmed U.S. national security.
  • January 15–19, 2014: USA Today/Pew Research poll reported little change from the previous June on the question of the government pursuing a criminal case against Snowden, with 56 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed. The poll found that people younger than 30 offered the least support for prosecution, being evenly divided at 42 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. Over all age groups, opinion was also nearly equally divided as to whether or not Snowden's disclosures had served the public interest: 45 percent said yes, while 43 percent said Snowden harmed the public interest.
  • January 18–20: The Economist/YouGov poll likewise found Americans evenly split, with 43 percent viewing Snowden favorably and 41 percent unfavorably; 46 percent approving his leaks and 43 percent disapproving; 28 percent supporting his prosecution and 29 percent opposed.
  • January 22: CBS News poll revealed a larger split (almost 3:1) as to whether or not Snowden ought to stand trial for his actions, with 61 percent in favor and 23 percent saying he should be granted amnesty. CBS News also differed from Pew Research on the issue of whether or not Snowden's disclosures had been good for the country, with 40 percent saying yes and 46 percent saying it had been bad. When asked to come up with a word that best describes Snowden, nearly a quarter of respondents volunteered either "traitor" or a similar word questioning his loyalty to his country, while 8 percent said he is "brave" or "courageous" or "a hero." Just 2 percent volunteered that he is a "patriot" or "patriotic," and another 2 percent said "terrorist."
  • January 22–25: NBC News/The Wall Street Journal Survey found continued low public approval for Snowden, with 23 percent supporting what he did, 37 percent opposing it, and 39 percent expressing no opinion.
  • March 26–28: The Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 31 percent thought Snowden was right to leak top-secret information about government surveillance programs to the media, while 33 percent believed he was wrong; 45 percent favored his prosecution, with 34 percent opposed; and 35 percent would support a presidential pardon, with 43 percent opposed.
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