In Their Own Words: Alleged NSA Leaker a Hero or a Traitor?

Edward Snowden, a private contractor for the National Security Agency, said he leaked classified documents from the super secret spy agency to protest its "horrifying" surveillance capabilities.

While he said he had no intention of hiding - despite running to Hong Kong - Snowden also told U.K.'s The Guardian newspaper he did not want to be in the media spotlight as the stories based on his information broke.

"I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me," he said. "I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing."

But public attention is exactly what he's gotten since he revealed himself as the source of the leaks Sunday, with top U.S. officials personally calling him out, claiming he broke the law or betrayed his country, and high-profile activists declaring him a hero for the cause of liberty.

So which is it? Is Edward Snowden a whistleblower hero, here to save the American public from its own government? Or is he a criminal, or potentially, a traitor to the nation he claims to want to protect? That all depends on who you ask.

See some quotes below from some high-profile figures in the lively debate. (To read about the NSA programs Snowden allegedly unveiled, click here and here and here.)

If Snowden's Claims Are True, He's Helping Those That Want to Harm the US

  • Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: " He's a traitor. The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it's a giant violation of the law." (From an exclusive interview with ABC News broadcast today on "Good Morning America")
  • Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee: "Taking a very sensitive classified program that targets foreign person[s] on foreign lands, and putting just enough out there to be dangerous is dangerous to us. It's dangerous to our national security and it violates the oath [that] that person took. I absolutely think they should be prosecuted." (From ABC News' "This Week" Sunday)
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chairman on the Senate Intelligence Committee, after being asked if she agreed with Rogers' statement: "I do." (From ABC News' "This Week" Sunday)
  • James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence: "[W]e all look upon it no matter what his or her motivation may have been, the damage that these revelations incur are huge. And so I hope we are able to track down whoever is doing this because it is extremely damaging to, and it affects the safety and security of, this country… The NSA has filed a crimes report on this already… There are legitimate outlets for anyone within the Intelligence Community who feels that some law is being violated… And for whatever reason, a person or persons doing this chose not to use those legitimate outlets." (From a June 8 NBC News report, before Snowden publicly confessed to the leaks)
  • Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, after being asked about those calling Snowden a hero: "Leaks of classified information that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem, a serious problem, and they're classified for a reason… When you divulge information that provides a playbook, if you will, to efforts that this government undertakes to counter the efforts of those who would kill Americans or attack the United States in some ways, or our allies, you're assisting them in evading those measures." (From Monday's White House press briefing)

Snowden Is a Patriot, Standing Up to the Powerful for the Public

  • Glenn Greenwald, author of The Guardian NSA reports based on Snowden's information, before calling Boehner's comments "pathetic": "It's really remarkable, moving and extraordinary to watch somebody who's 29-years-old [Snowden], who knows that they're probably going to be spending decades in a small cage… to be so completely at peace with what it is they've done because they really are convinced in the bottom of their soul that it's the right thing to do… People in power hate it when you shine a light on what it is they do. They're like cockroaches, they like to operate in the dark." (To ABC News Monday)
  • Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the 1971 Pentagon Papers: "I'm very impressed by the civil courage that Edward Snowden has shown and I think that he gives me hope that we may actually gain our Bill of Rights back… To me, he's a hero and I think to very many Americans. As for being called a traitor, that's part of the price of telling the truth that the President doesn't want told. I paid that price myself." (To ABC News Monday)
  • Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks: "Edward Snowden is a hero who has informed the public about one of the most serious events of the decade, which is the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state." (To Britain's Sky News)
  • Birgitta Jonsdottir, Icelandic lawmaker who has offered to help Snowden find asylum in her home country: "In relation to releasing this information to the public domain, [it's] very much in the spirit of making a safe haven for freedom of information, expression of speech, such [as] we're working on in Iceland… In my opinion, the persecution of whistleblowers in the United States in the last few years is alarming." (To ABC News Monday)
  • Anonymous, loose collective of hacktivists: "Sometimes doing the right thing = breaking the law. Snowden has accepted his fate. Worth it to expose massive constitutional violations." (From Twitter Tuesday)
  • 50,000-plus White House petitions signers, more than halfway to the 100,00 mark at which the White House must formally respond: "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." (From the White House's We The People website)

As the debate rages over Snowden, a senior law enforcement source told ABC News Monday that investigators aren't completely convinced he worked alone.

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