Snowden is the first leaker to step forward and admit his act before he was even named by the government. "There's a certain dignity in that," said Aftergood. "Among leakers, as among others who defy accepted norms, that is the exception, not the rule."
Ellsberg surrendered to authorities in 1971 after it became known that an arrest warrant had been issued for him. He said he wanted to take responsibility for his actions. But unlike Snowden, he said, it did not occur to him to flee — in Snowden's case to Hong Kong. "But his being in Hong Kong gives him the chance to speak out openly in a way that he could not do here, to explain his motives," Ellsberg said.
U.S. officials and national security experts, however, say the leaker should be prosecuted.
"Taking a very sensitive classified program that targets foreign persons on foreign lands, and putting just enough out there to be dangerous, is dangerous to us. It's dangerous to our national security. And it violates the oath which that person took," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a television interview Sunday. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., his Senate counterpart, agreed that the leaks demanded prosecution.
The most likely statute under which Snowden would be prosecuted is the 1917 Espionage Act, a law used to prosecute Manning, Drake and Ellsberg. Provisions under that law make it a crime to disclose national defense information to persons unauthorized to receive it and to transmit and publish communications intelligence information.