One of my all-time personal heroes is Daniel Ellsberg, who risked incarceration in a federal prison for life when he leaked the super-secret Pentagon Papers to the American public with their publication in the New York Times in 1971.
The papers confirmed among other things, that the government had lied to the public and Congress for two decades about our involvement in Vietnam.
A second personal hero of mine was Henry David Thoreau. After being incarcerated as a matter of conscience in the 1850s, Thoreau was visited by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who asked what in heaven's sake he was doing inside a jail cell.
Thoreau's famous retort: What I don't understand is what you are doing outside of it!
Finally, the greatest of my personal heroes by far was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was jailed hundreds of times in his attempt to break the back of segregation in this country.
All three committed the so-called "crimes" that could — and in the latter two cases, did — send them to jail.
Today the public is clearly split as to whether Edward J. Snowden ought to be seen as a hero or a traitor for leaking secret classified NSA documents to the Guardian Newspaper in England; The Washington Post in the United States; and ultimately to America's enemies at home and overseas.
To me, that is a question that must and will be settled in a courtroom.
I, like many of you, are troubled by whether there has been overreach as regards governmental surveillance of American citizens.
Two things are for sure: First, some Americans clearly are willing to sacrifice some of their privacy, and even some of their constitutional rights, in order to be safer in our homes and in our streets; and second, some Americans clearly are not willing to sacrifice any of their privacy or their constitutional rights in order to be safer in our homes and in our streets.
To me, those are questions that must and will be settled in free and open debate.
What is undisputed: Snowden chose to become a contractor with the NSA. As such, Snowden willingly signed a document that pledged him to secrecy as regards his work product. He didn't have to join the NSA and he didn't have to sign a confidentiality agreement.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know that the NSA and CIA may do many things that skirt the line of legality and morality. Snowden understood the murky world he was entering and did so willingly.
Many of you have never heard of Jonathan Pollard.
According to his advocates in the United States and Israel, Pollard was a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst in the mid 1980s. He allegedly discovered that information vital to Israel's security was deliberately being withheld by certain elements within the U.S. national security establishment. He, too, had signed a confidentiality agreement. He, too, decided on his own that Israel had a right to know despite what his superiors believed.
He leaked to an ally and is still in jail 25 years later.
Snowden, accidentally or not, might have leaked to our enemies. Shouldn't he, too, be held accountable like Pollard, no matter whether he thought what he was doing was right?
I'm glad Ellsberg didn't have to go to jail and I personally think it's time to release Pollard.
As for Snowden, if he did the crime, I hope he's prepared to do some serious time.
Michael Goldman is a paid political consultant for Democratic candidates and president of Goldman Associates in Boston.