WASHINGTON — Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald defended his actions Sunday when asked on national television why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime for having ‘‘aided and abetted’’ former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden.
Greenwald replied to David Gregory, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ that it was ‘‘pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.’’
Greenwald first reported Snowden’s disclosure of US government surveillance programs. On Sunday, Ecuador’s foreign minister and the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks said that Snowden was headed to Ecuador to seek asylum.
During his interview with Gregory, Greenwald declined to discuss where Snowden was headed. That refusal seemed to prompt Gregory to ask: ‘‘To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?’’
Greenwald said Gregory was embracing the Obama administration’s attempt to ‘‘criminalize investigative journalism,’’ citing an FBI agent’s characterization of Fox News journalist James Rosen as a probable co-conspirator of a State Department contractor who was suspected of leaking classified information to Rosen.
Rosen was not charged.
‘‘If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal, and it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States,’’ said Greenwald.
Greenwald, a former constitutional and civil rights lawyer, has written three books contending that the government has violated personal rights in the name of protecting national security.
Gregory responded that ‘‘the question of who is a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you are doing.’’ Gregory also said he was merely asking a question.
‘‘That question has been raised by lawmakers as well,’’ Gregory said. ‘‘I’m not embracing anything, but, obviously, I take your point.’’
Later, Greenwald tweeted, ‘‘Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?’’ and, ‘‘Has David Gregory ever publicly wondered if powerful DC officials should be prosecuted for things like illegal spying & lying to Congress?’’
Snowden disclosed surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of online data and e-mail, sometimes sweeping up information on ordinary American citizens.
Officials have the ability to collect phone and Internet data broadly but need a warrant to review specific cases where they believe terrorism is involved. The revelation sparked debate about government surveillance and post-Sept. 11 civil liberties.
Since revealing himself as the principal source for reports in the Guardian and the Washington Post, Snowden had been in hiding in Hong Kong.
The United States sought his extradition but officials in Hong Kong rejected that, saying the US petition did not pass muster.
The former NSA contractor has had his passport revoked, although that alone probably would not thwart his travel.