Edward Snowden, the former contractor who leaked National Security Agency secrets, fired back on Friday after being accused of treason by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during the previous night’s GOP debate.
Mr. Cruz said the former NSA analyst committed treason when he leaked national security documents detailing the spy agency’s intelligence-gathering operations.
“The evidence is clear that not only [did] Snowden violate the law, but it appears he committed treason. Treason is defined under the Constitution as giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America, and what Snowden did made it easier for terrorists to avoid detection,” Mr. Cruz said during Thursday’s GOP debate, hosted by Fox News, in Detroit.
“Aiding the public is treason only if the voter is your enemy,” Mr. Snowden tweeted.
The Department of Justice has charged Mr. Snowden, 32, with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence as a result of disclosing sensitive NSA documents to the press in 2013. He has resided in Russia since being granted asylum later that year.
Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, treason charges can be brought against an American citizen if prosecutors can successfully argue that an individual provided “aid or comfort” to the nation’s adversaries, either by levying war or adhering to the enemy.
Mr. Cruz previously accused the former NSA contractor of treason during an interview in January, and similar allegations have been made in the past by lawmakers including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who served as House speaker when Mr. Snowden’s leaks first began to surface.
Donald Trump, the GOP’s current front-runner in the race for the White House, chided Mr. Snowden during Thursday night’s debate as well.
“Right from the beginning I said he was a spy, and we should get him back. And if Russia respected our country, they would have sent him back immediately, but he was a spy. It didn’t take me a long time to figure that one out. Believe me,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Snowden’s disclosures have revealed immense details about the NSA’s operations in the U.S. and abroad, including surveillance programs that indiscriminately target innocent Americans and foreigners alike. His revelations concerning the U.S. government’s bulk collection of phone records has been credited with getting Congress to draft and pass the USA Freedom Act, in turn imposing new restrictions on how telephone metadata is compiled.
James Woolsey, the former head of the CIA, and others have said those disclosures have aided terrorists. Last year, Mr. Woolsey accused Mr. Snowden of leaking information that aided the perpetrators of the November 2015 terror attack in Paris, and he said Mr. Snowden had “blood on his hands” and should be “hanged” for sharing state-secrets.
Public opinion polls conducted after the NSA leaks first began initially showed Americans to be more-or-less equally divided with respect to Mr. Snowden’s actions, while the results of a survey commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2015 concluded that 64 percent of Americans familiar with the former contractor hold a negative opinion of him.