Ex-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government records after exposing a massive National Security Agency surveillance program known as PRISM.
But if the U.S. government believes Snowden spied on his government and leaked information to the benefit of America's enemies, why hasn't it charged him with the more serious crime of treason?
If some members of Congress had their way, it appears he would be. The chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, had this to say about Snowden's leaks: "I don't look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it's an act of treason."
But what constitutes treason? And does the charge apply to Edward Snowden? Probably not.
Here's the official definition in the U.S. Code:
"Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."
It's pretty obvious that Snowden has done nothing anywhere close to levying war against the United States. "All the levying war cases require an assemblage of men and force," Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California-Davis, told The Washington Post. "I've never heard of a levying war prosecution that was just about releasing some documents."
As for providing aid and comfort to an enemy, Larson said: "... The provision is aiding the enemy, giving them aid and comfort. That requires some enemy, usually in particular, that you're aiding. Whereas right here he has just leaked material to the whole world."
And there's no evidence he "adheres" to the nation's enemies. Which means there's really no motive for treason.
The government has instead filed espionage and theft-of-records charges because they'll be easier to prove. Though you really have to wonder, what secrets Snowden actually exposed involved a nation reportedly spying on its own citizens.
It is true that the PRISM surveillance program is design to pick up communications of foreign enemies of the United States. But to hear veteran NSA officials tell it, our enemies caught onto this sort of surveillance a long time ago.
"Ever since ... 1997-1998 ... those terrorists have known that we've been monitoring all of these communications all along. So they have already adjusted to the fact that we are doing that. So the fact that it is published in the U.S. news that we're doing that, has no effect on them whatsoever. They have already adjusted to that," NSA whistle-blower Willam Binney told USA Today.
In other words, when it comes to knowing what the U.S. intelligence community is up to these days, American citizens are more than one step behind the terrorists who are out to get them. Perhaps they should focus their attention on that instead of Edward Snowden and his whereabouts.