Although polls show more Americans see Edward Snowden as a whistleblower than traitor, officials on Capitol Hill and in the intelligence community maintain that if the National Security Agency renegade were sincere about exposing excessive government eavesdropping, there was a better and more honorable way than fleeing to Hong Kong and now Russia.
These officials say that if Snowden had been willing to testify before a Congressional committee it almost certainly would have triggered an all-out investigation of the PRISM surveillance program that he instead revealed by leaking classified material to the press.
Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, told Newsmax, "There are other avenues available to people disturbed by government programs, such as a review board or a congressional investigating committee. All Snowden had to do was raise his right hand to be sworn in and then put the whole elephant out there."
Debate over Snowden's sincerity and course of action was sparked by a recent Quinnipiac poll showing that among likely voters nationwide, 55 percent thought Snowden was a whistleblower and only 34 percent considered him a traitor.
President Barack Obama told a news conference Friday, "I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot," adding, "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."
But others believe that Snowden might have made his case before a congressional committee and secured a desired investigation.
Examples have been cited going back to the 1940s, when former Soviet undercover courier Elizabeth Bentley testified before a House committee about U.S. government officials secretly helping Moscow. Her testimony was supported by Whittaker Chambers, a former communist turned Time magazine senior editor.
In 1963, former gangland hitman Joseph Valachi kept the nation riveted with his testimony before a Senate committee that confirmed existence of a national crime syndicate and made household words out of the terms "Mafia" and "Cosa Nostra."
Would the appropriate congressional committees have taken up Snowden's sensational charges with the same vigor that past committees pursued the revelations of Bentley or Valachi?
"Yes, why not?" House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, asked Newsmax.
"If Snowden were a true whistleblower, he should have come forward and sought protection under the whistleblower laws, "Goodlatte said.
At his news conference, Obama referred to those laws, noting, "I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community — for the first time".
Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax: "I would have reviewed all of the Snowden information to see if there was anything that I had not been informed of.
"Whether on the Intelligence Committee or the Education and Labor Committee, I always had the highest respect for federal employees who would take personal risk to inform Congress of things they thought were inappropriate," said Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican.
Hoekstra recalled that while in the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee, "I was informed by sources of programs and projects … that the intelligence community was involved with, that the committee was not informed of. These programs were not related to the NSA program. I followed up and found out that the information was accurate."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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