Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, said Sunday that he used to describe leaker Edward Snowden as a "defector," but is now "drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language ... such as 'traitor.'"
"I think there's an English word that describes selling American secrets to another government, and I do think it's treason," Hayden said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Snowden tore back the curtain on NSA programs that collect phone records en masse, among other things, and his revelations sparked outrage from those who feel the agency is going too far. Two recent federal court rulings have conflicted on whether the NSA surveillance is legal, with one judge calling it "almost Orwellian" and likely unconstitutional, and another determining that it is lawful. Those cases are headed to appeals courts in New York and Washington, and could eventually go to the Supreme Court.
A poll released in late October found that Americans are divided about 50-50 on whether Snowden is "something of a hero who should be commended for letting the public know that our governments are running electronic surveillance programs that threaten people’s privacy" or “more of a traitor who should be condemned for publicizing security activities and threatening western intelligence operations."
Hayden said the NSA is "infinitely" weaker as a result of Snowden's leaks.
"This is the most serious hemorrhaging of American secrets in the history of American espionage," he said.
"What Snowden is revealing ... is the plumbing," he added later. "He's revealing how we acquire this information. It will take years, if not decades, for us to return to the position that we had prior to his disclosures."