President Barack Obama's recent speech on changes to the way the National Security Agency spies on people inspired many questions. It also helped to renew the debate over Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor behind the leaks. Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
Of course, nothing is so simple, but Snowden's actions have definitely divided people. According to recent polls, most Americans consider Snowden to be more of a whistle-blower than a traitor. However, the same polls indicate more Americans believe Snowden's actions were mostly bad for the U.S.
Snowden first leaked the NSA documents in June 2013. Some documents included information on American espionage efforts against enemies. Others revealed how the NSA was spying on American citizens, which raised the ire of civil rights advocates. Other documents focused on how the U.S. spied on its allies, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. That led Merkel to reportedly demand clarification from Obama about the reports that her phone had been tapped.
And the leaks have kept on trickling out. On Friday, while outlining how he plans to overhaul the NSA, Obama mentioned Snowden by name. "Given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations," Obama said. "I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets."
Later, Obama said, "We know that the intelligence services of other countries — including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures — are constantly probing our government and private-sector networks and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations and intercept our emails and compromise our systems. We know that."
In recent weeks, the New York Times and the U.K.'s Guardian have both published op-eds that urge clemency for Snowden.
The Times wrote, "When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government." The Guardian's op-ed described Snowden's actions as "some act of moral courage."
Nothing in Obama's speech indicated that his administration is considering these suggestions.
A blog from the Washington Post's Max Fisher, in which he writes about the opinions of cybersecurity expert Peter Singer, offers an interesting theory on why people remain divided about Snowden. As Fisher puts it, "Many Americans see him as either a hero or a villain but rarely as something in between."
What are your thoughts on Snowden? Is he one or the other? Or is he rather a collection of grays? Please leave a comment below.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).