Al Gore: Snowden not a traitor

Former Vice President Al Gore defended government leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday, refusing to label him a traitor and calling him more of a hero.

“I don’t put him in either one of those categories,” Gore said at the Southland Conference in Nashville, Tenn. “If you set up a spectrum, I would push it more away from the traitor side and I’ll tell you why.”

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“He clearly violated the law," he continued, "but what he revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the United States Constitution that were way more serious than the crimes he committed.

“So in the course of violating important laws, he also provided an important service because we did need to know how far this has gone,” Gore said of secret surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden.

Gore’s comments are a sharp rebuke to other top government and intelligence figures, who say that Snowden’s leaks have impaired the ability of the United States to defend itself from terrorists and foreign enemies.

Defenders of the National Security Agency (NSA) point to repeated determinations by the federal court overseeing spy activities, among others, that its surveillance operations fall within the bounds of current law.

NSA supporters have agreed to make some reforms, however, to calm the public outrage created by Snowden’s leaks over the past year.

Gore also reportedly chided the NSA’s operations, many of which began after he left office, as a “threat to the heart of democracy.”

Other critics of the NSA have charged that the NSA’s programs may be illegal or unconstitutional, but few high-ranking officials have gone as far as Gore in his criticism of the surveillance.   

A federal judge last year, for instance, called the program “almost Orwellian,” and the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in January said the agency’s bulk collection of phone records “lacks a viable legal foundation.” The White House has dismissed those findings.

Snowden is currently holed up in Russia on a temporary asylum order, fleeing multiple espionage charges in the U.S.