The US government on Thursday said it launched a criminal investigation against Edward Snowden for leaking its secretive phone and internet surveillance programmes.
And the intelligence agency that runs them — including one codenamed PRISM — defended them on Wednesday saying they helped prevent “dozens of terrorist events”.
Snowden is believed to be in Hong Kong. He has confessed to the leaks in several interviews, the last of which he gave to a Chinese daily on Wednesday.
“As to the individual who has admitted making these disclosures, he is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation,” FBI director Robert Mueller told a US House committee.
“We are taking all necessary steps to hold the person responsible for these disclosures.”
On Wednesday, General Keith B Alexander, head of the NSA, the agency that runs the surveillance programmes, told a US Senate committee that their actions helped prevent “dozens of terrorist events”.
After citing two instances — preventing a New York subway bombing plot and apprehending David Headley, both in 2009, Alexander promised the senators more specifics about other cases, which may or may never be made public.
“I think what we’re doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing,” said the general, who also heads the US military’s Cyber Command.
To many, Snowden is a traitor for making public the programmes run to protect people from terrorists. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, has called the leak an “act of treason”.
And House speaker, John Boehner, a Republican has called Snowden a “traitor”.
But to some, the former NSA contractor is a hero. “Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free, and absolute pardon,” said a petition which has been signed by 68,000 people.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the Obama administration saying the leaked NSA programmes violated the rights of American people, going beyond the laws designed to protect them from terrorists.