Two powerful Republican lawmakers upped the ante Sunday in the debate over whether National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a whistleblower or a traitor when they suggested that Russia or some other foreign power helped him steal a treasure trove of information.
"This was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview. "Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation-states."
Rogers added that he "believe[s] there's a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of [a state security service] agent in Moscow. I don't think that's a coincidence."
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, echoed Rogers' concern on ABC's "This Week."
“I don’t think Mr. Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself,” McCaul said.
“To say definitively I can’t answer that, but I personally believe that he was cultivated by a foreign power to do what he did. Again, I can’t give a definitive statement on that, but I think given all the evidence I know Mike Rogers has access to, that I’ve seen, that I don’t think he was acting alone,” he added.
Many U.S. officials have suggested that Snowden is a traitor. But charging him as such may be difficult, if not impossible, without clear proof that he was working for a hostile power.
Article III of the Constitution sets strict limits on how the charge can be applied, saying: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court." Since it was ratified in 1789, there have only been about 30 such trials.
Meanwhile, a leading cybersecurity expert told the Washington Examiner in a recent interview that Snowden may have been helped most by the NSA's lack of adequate control over access to information.
Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar and co-author of the book, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, said systems administrators at the NSA should have recognized anomalies in the system if Snowden was uploading as much information as he reportedly stole, even using other people's passwords.
What Snowden was doing "should have raised alarms, but it didn't," he said. "There were a lot of best practices that weren't being followed."