Snowden is not a criminal. As a federal employee of or contractor to, at various times, the Army, the CIA, and the NSA he was required to swear an oath. This oath is required for everyone working for any federal agency. Following is the oath Snowden swore on more than one occasion:
I, Edward Snowden, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
If at any point in his career Snowden were to witness any subversion of the United States Constitution he is not merely allowed to point it out, he is legally required to do so. You read that right. Snowden was required by oath and by law to support and defend the Constitution.
Did he break some laws along the way? Some may twist the facts to say that he did, but that is not the case. First of all, no amount of rationalization can make exposing a crime to be in and of itself illegal. Secondly, if a law is blocking the proper defense of the Constitution then that law is to be ignored and bypassed. Allan Weisbecker explained it very simply and precisely in his article, NSA Surveillance: On Edward Snowden’s Oath and Motives:
If in fact we are going to assume (or pretend) that the United States is a country wherein rule of law is taken seriously, and if the Constitution is indeed the Supreme Law of the Land, any legitimate threat to its tenets as perceived by an oath-taker must take precedence over any other law, be it state or federal. This is not only a clear interpretation of the Constitution itself, but has been upheld by case law, including the Supreme Court (Marbury vs Madison, among others).
Violating the Espionage Act? No, not even close. If he chose to sell the information taken to foreign powers then that might be a reasonable accusation, but that's simply not the case. He blew the whistle on an illegal operation that the government was keeping secret. That is the reason we have freedom of the press enshrined in our Constitution. Let's use a little common sense and give whistleblowers the same protections promised to journalists under the first amendment, for they are also a very integral part of the press.
Theft of Government Property is another lie that is being waved around as a reason to hang Snowden. The problem with that is the information Snowden released into the wild was not owned by the United States Government. It was collected illegally by the United States Government, but the information as well as the government itself is owned by the people of the United States of America. Snowden merely let us know what our rogue government was doing to us. (Yes, to us. Not for us.)
During a recent meeting with tech executives it was suggested to Obama that he should pardon Snowden. Speaking from inside the depths of a cauldron of bovine excrement, the President insisted that he could not do that. That was a lie. It is an undeniable fact that he can pardon anyone he wants to for whatever reason he decides. He just doesn't want to, which means that he doesn't really want transparency in government. There is a petition to pardon Snowden on petitions.whitehouse.gov that has long had the required number of signatures to illicit a response from Obama, but he has so far just ignored it.
Snowden has, without a doubt, hurt the reputation of the current government officials, but he never swore to protect the current government. He swore to protect the Constitution. Do you remember that phrase they use to describe what the Constitution is supposed to be protected from? All enemies, foreign and domestic. The NSA, in violating the United States Constitution as well as the rights of every U.S. citizen, is what can be described as a domestic enemy. All enemies, foreign and domestic. There is a reason that phrase was included in the oath. It is because our founding fathers knew from personal experience that domestic enemies would do everything they can to chisel away our rights and freedoms unless we stayed vigilant.
We have not stayed vigilant. Snowden revealed a lot of violations to us, but now he can do no more. It is up to us to make sure he didn't make this sacrifice in vain. Make the NSA accountable. Make the government accountable. Bring back Freedom of the Press. Pardon Edward Snowden.