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As NSA leaker Edward Snowden gets asylum, debate lingers: whistleblower or traitor?

Published: Monday, July 27 2015 7:39 p.m. MDT

In this image taken from Associated Press Television shows, Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena showing  a temporary document to allow Edward Snowden cross the border into Russia while speaking to the media after visiting National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow's airport, his lawyer said Thursday. Kucherena said after meeting with the fugitive at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he was stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, that he handed him the papers proving his status. Kucherena said that Snowden's whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons. (AP Photo/Associated Press Television) (Uncredited, ASSOCIATED PRESS) In this image taken from Associated Press Television shows, Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena showing a temporary document to allow Edward Snowden cross the border into Russia while speaking to the media after visiting National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden at Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow's airport, his lawyer said Thursday. Kucherena said after meeting with the fugitive at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, where he was stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, that he handed him the papers proving his status. Kucherena said that Snowden's whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons. (AP Photo/Associated Press Television) (Uncredited, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Following five weeks of living in limbo and hiding out at a Moscow airport, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden finally obtained some quantum of certainty about his future Thursday when Russia granted him one year of asylum.

“After 39 days avoiding hordes of international reporters desperate for a glimpse of him, Snowden managed to give them the slip again, leaving the airport in a car,” Reuters reported.

New polling released Thursday by Quinnipiac University showed that when asked whether Snowden is more of a whistleblower or traitor, significantly more Americans chose whistleblower (55 percent) than traitor (34 percent). Interestingly, those results are exactly the same numbers Quinnipiac obtained when asking the exact question three weeks ago.

Even though Snowden’s situation is resolved for the time being, the question remains: Is he a whistleblower or a traitor?

By way of review, Snowden leaked classified documents to The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald that Snowden accessed while working for the NSA. Those files showed the NSA is, in the words of Fox News reporter Robert Romano, basically “recording everything. Every phone call, email, Internet search, chat session, financial transaction, you name it. And then if it needs to target a particular individual, the agency can request a warrant and then develop a complete record of all of his or her communications, including those from the past.”

FILE - In this handout file photo taken on Friday, July 12, 2013, and made available by Human Rights Watch shows NSA leaker Edward Snowden during his meeting with Russian activists and officials at Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow, Russia . National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow airport, his lawyer said Thursday. Kucherena said after meeting with the fugitive at Moscows Sheremetyevo airport, where he was stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, that he handed him the papers proving his status. Kucherena said that Snowdens whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons. (AP Photo/Tatyana Lokshina, Human Rights Watch HO, file) (Tatyana Lokshina, ASSOCIATED PRESS) FILE - In this handout file photo taken on Friday, July 12, 2013, and made available by Human Rights Watch shows NSA leaker Edward Snowden during his meeting with Russian activists and officials at Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow, Russia . National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow airport, his lawyer said Thursday. Kucherena said after meeting with the fugitive at Moscows Sheremetyevo airport, where he was stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, that he handed him the papers proving his status. Kucherena said that Snowdens whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons. (AP Photo/Tatyana Lokshina, Human Rights Watch HO, file) (Tatyana Lokshina, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On June 5, Greenwald published his initial article that revealed Verizon Wireless regularly hands over all of its domestic call records to the NSA. Roughly two weeks later, the Washington Post broke the news that the federal government would charge Snowden “with theft, ‘unauthorized communication of national defense information’ and ‘willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.’ ”

In terms of delineating the difference between a whistleblower and traitor, CNN’s Anderson Cooper moderated an instructive discussion Tuesday with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin (who has been a staunch critic of Snowden’s actions) and Greenwald, the reporter to whom Snowden leaked classified documents. Although Toobin and Greenwald were appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 in connection with that day’s sentencing of Pfc. Bradley Manning (the soldier who funneled massive amounts of data to WikiLeaks), Snowden’s name repeatedly surfaced during the back-and-forth between Toobin and Greenwald.

In this photo taken on Friday, July 12, 2013, shows a view of Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow, Russia. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow airport, his lawyer said Thursday. Kucherena said after meeting with the fugitive at Moscows Sheremetyevo airport, where he was stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, that he handed him the papers proving his status. Kucherena said that Snowdens whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file) (Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP) In this photo taken on Friday, July 12, 2013, shows a view of Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow, Russia. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow airport, his lawyer said Thursday. Kucherena said after meeting with the fugitive at Moscows Sheremetyevo airport, where he was stuck since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23, that he handed him the papers proving his status. Kucherena said that Snowdens whereabouts will be kept secret for security reasons.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file) (Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP)

Toobin stopped short of calling Snowden a traitor on Tuesday, but he strongly asserted Snowden would end up in jail if he repatriated to the United States: “I think Snowden will be confirmed in his desire to stay out of the United States because I think (Snowden’s and Manning’s) situations are very parallel in terms of the amount of disclosure that went on, and I think (Snowden) is likely to face exactly this kind of prosecution and exactly this kind of result and sentence (as Manning).”

(On June 10 Toobin wrote for the New Yorker, “(Snowden) wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done.”)

Conversely, Greenwald applauded Snowden’s actions and contended the primary reason Snowden is facing criminal charges is because he’s not part of Washington’s elite.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, unseen, during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow's airport, his lawyer said Thursday. The U.S. has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage, but President Vladimir Putin dismissed the request. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service) (Mikhail Klimentyev, AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, unseen, during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has received asylum in Russia for one year and left the transit zone of Moscow's airport, his lawyer said Thursday. The U.S. has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage, but President Vladimir Putin dismissed the request. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service) (Mikhail Klimentyev, AP)

“It seems like people always contrive excuses to attack anybody that brings transparency to the government unless they are powerful officials in Washington — in which case it is OK,” Greenwald quipped.

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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