White House refuses to comment on NSA whistle-blower Snowden

The White House said Monday that President Obama has been briefed on 29-year-old Edward Snowden's claim that he leaked information about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs, but would not offer any comment on the defense contractor's admission.

"There is obviously an investigation under way into this matter, and for that reason, I am not going to be able to discuss this individual or this matter," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Snowden was identified by reporters from The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers as the source of information detailing NSA programs that monitor Web traffic and phone records. He was staying at a hotel in Hong Kong, but has since checked out, according to multiple media reports.

The Justice Department on Sunday said they had launched a criminal investigation into “unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

The press secretary did confirm that the president had been briefed by members of his senior staff about Snowden's admission, although he would not say whether Obama had watched a video interview with the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor posted to The Guardian's website.

In that interview, Snowden said he was partially motivated to reveal the programs out of disappointment with the president's counterterrorism policies.

Carney also sidestepped a question about a White House petition calling on the president to pardon Snowden for the intelligence leak. At least 20,000 people have signed the petition on the We the People website.

“I won’t comment specifically on an individual or his status. We obviously await a threshold being crossed, and that threshold has not been crossed,” Carney said.

But Carney did say that in general "leaks of sensitive classified information … cause harm to our national security."

"Everyone who takes an oath or signs an oath understands that divulging classified information is a violation of that law and a violation of that oath," Carney said, adding that there were appropriate channels for whistle-blowers in the intelligence community to use if they felt that the government was acting in an illegal or unethical way.

Carney said that Obama believed it was "entirely appropriate to debate these matters" as controversy over the programs continued to build.

"It is an absolutely appropriate topic for debate both now and going into the future," he said.