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As leaker Snowden flees, defender and critics clash over national security risks

On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, journalist Glenn Greenwald defended former government contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed to Greenwald’s Guardian newspaper details of the National Security Agency data collection program.

Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian, speaks with Meet the Press about what Edward Snowden plans to do now that he has left Hong Kong.

“He apparently is headed to a democratic country that will grant him asylum from this persecution,” Greenwald told NBC’s David Gregory.

Snowden, whom the Obama administration has charged with espionage, arrived in Moscow Sunday after abruptly leaving Hong Kong. He may be headed to Ecuador.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.,  said on Meet the Press that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has “a very aggressive intelligence operation in the United States” and “would love to have a little bit of coffee and a few conversations with Mr. Snowden. That’s why this is so serious and why we need to be so aggressive about making sure that people understand the difference between someone who betrays their country” and a genuine whistleblower.

On CNN's State of the Union Sen. Charles Schumer, D- N.Y., "what's infuriating here" is Putin "aiding and abetting Snowden's escape." He added, "Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States...."

“I hope we'll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice and let the Russians know there will be consequences if they harbor this guy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- S.C. said on Fox News Sunday.

But Greenwald said Snowden “believes that it’s vital that he stay out of the clutches of the U.S. government” because he thinks the Obama administration has punished whistleblowers who try to reveal illegal actions, Greenwald said.

“There’s been nothing that been revealed that been remotely endangering of national security,” he contended.

Greenwald said that Snowden had uncovered evidence of a secret opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review which allegedly says that the U.S. government is engaged in unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens.

Portraying Snowden as a hero, Greenwald asked: “Why does he feel that he has to flee the United States simply because he steps forward in a very careful way” to reveal what he thinks is government misconduct.

“Do we really want to put people like that in prison for life when all they’re doing is telling us as citizens what our political officials are doing in the dark?” Greenwald asked.

Snowden, he said, did not work for a foreign government. Greenwald also said Snowden had acted responsibly and cautioned him and the Guardian to “only publish what Americans should know – but don’t harm national security and we have withheld the majority of things that he gave us….”

But in an interview on ABC's This Week, Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency, said "what Snowden has revealed has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies."

Asked why "alarm bells did not go off" when Snowden left Hawaii carrying classified information with him, Alexander said, "This is a key issue that we've got to work our way through. Clearly, the system did not work as it should have."

House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., discusses Edward Snowden's leaking of classified information and the end game of bringing him back to the United States.

Rogers said that every one of the nations that Snowden is visiting or reportedly headed to – Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela – is “hostile to the United States.”

Rogers said, “He has taken information that does not belong to him – it belongs to the people of the United States – he has jeopardized our national security…. Clearly the bad guys have already changed their ways” in light of the information which Snowden revealed.  

Snowden and Greenwald, he said, are essentially taking “a thousand-piece puzzle, taking three or four pieces and deciding you’re now an expert on what that picture looks like. You’re going to get it wrong and it’s dangerous.”

Rogers said that the court opinion which Snowden referred to had ordered the government to adjust its surveillance program. This is evidence, he said, of the effective oversight of the NSA program by the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review.

“There is judicial review and there was judicial pushback—and rightly so,” Rogers said.

All this NSA oversight was reported to Congress, Rogers said. “We reviewed it – we agreed that they (the NSA) had over-collected and we also agreed the mitigation – the way that they used technology to make sure they weren’t collecting certain bits of information – was adhered to.”

On CNN's State of the Union, Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., favorably contrasted Snowden with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whom, Paul said, had lied to Congress about the NSA surveillance.

"Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy," Paul said. "So, I think there will be a judgment, because both of them broke the law, and history will have to determine."

He added, "If he (Snowden) goes to an independent third country like Iceland and if he refuses to talk to any sort of formal government about this, I think there's a chance that he'll be seen as an advocate of privacy. If he cozies up to either the Russian government, the Chinese government, or any of these governments that are perceived still as enemies of ours, I think that that will be a real problem for him in history."

The Hong Kong government said Sunday that Snowden left Hong Kong “on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.”

The statement said that the United States government requested that Hong Kong issue an arrest warrant against Snowden, but “the documents provided by the U.S. Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law,” and therefore the Hong Kong government would not stop Snowden from leaving.

NBC's Pete Williams discusses what course of action the U.S. government will pursue to bring Edward Snowden back to the United States to face charges of espionage.

NBC’s Pete Williams said the Obama administration was in the process of responding to Hong Kong’s request for additional information when Hong Kong officials allowed Snowden to leave Hong Kong. “It’s fair to say the U.S. is upset about this,” Williams said. “This is quite a surprise, I think it’s fair to say, to the administration.”

To some degree Snowden’s dramatic flight temporarily overshadowed the debate over prospects for Senate passage this week of a bipartisan bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

On Monday the Senate is scheduled to vote on a 1,200-page amendment offered by Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., and Sen. John Hoeven, R- N.D., which has an initial cost of $46.3 billion – money to be used hire 20,000 Border Patrol agents and to deploy them along the Mexican border, as well as building add border fencing and setting up an electronic visa entry/exit system at all air and sea ports of entry where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are currently deployed.

“The bill will pass,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday. “I think we are on the verge of getting 70 votes. That is my goal. It's always been my goal. We are very, very close to 70 votes. The Hoeven-Corker Amendment I think gets us over the top.”

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