By Jeremy Herb - 08/09/13 08:13 PM EDT
President Obama said Friday that National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden wasn’t a patriot for disclosing classified surveillance programs, and there were other avenues he could have pursued to address his concerns.
“I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” Obama was asked at a news conference.
“I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks,” he said. “My preference, and I think the American people's preference, would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws — a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place.”
Snowden’s disclosures of top-secret NSA phone and Internet surveillance programs have sparked a major debate over the government’s spying activities.
Privacy advocates have praised the former NSA contractor’s disclosures and called him a whistle-blower for exposing the surveillance activities.
Obama said that Snowden had other means to raise the issues he had, noting that he signed an executive order that provided some whistle-blower protections to the intelligence community.
“There were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions,” Obama said.
He called on Snowden, who has been charged by the U.S. with espionage, to return to American soil and face trial.
“If, in fact, he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer, and make his case,” Obama said.
Snowden has been given temporary asylum in Russia, a move that, along with other relations issues, prompted Obama to cancel a bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.