By Daniel Strauss - 06/11/13 11:54 AM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday called Edward Snowden, the contractor who leaked details of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs, a “traitor.”
"He's a traitor," Boehner said on ABC's “Good Morning America.” “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are, and it’s a giant violation of the law."
Snowden’s whereabouts were unknown as of Tuesday, but the whistle-blower was last seen in Hong Kong. The Justice Department on Sunday launched a criminal investigation that could lead to his extradition and prosecution.
The revelations about the NSA sparked a firestorm of controversy with civil libertarians calling the agency’s actions an overreach and a violation of privacy rights. Critics of the NSA’s programs have hailed Snowden as a hero, while others have criticized the leaks as damaging to national security.
On Monday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Snowden’s leaking of NSA information was treasonous.
"I don't look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it's an act of treason," Feinstein said.
Boehner also joined President Obama in defending the programs as effective and essential for national security.
"The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools to fight the terrorist threat that we face," he said.
Boehner said there were adequate safeguards for the NSA programs and that the civil liberties of Americans were “absolutely” being protected.
"I've been briefed on all of these programs," Boehner said. "There's no American who's gonna be snooped on in any way — unless they're in contact — with some terrorists around the world."
“There is heavy oversight of this program by the House Intelligence Committee on a bipartisan basis and the Senate Intelligence Committee,” he added. “And that’s why I feel comfortable that we can operate this program and protect the privacy rights of our citizens.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday promised that House committees would conduct a “very serious” investigation into the leaks.