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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 10th, 2013
07:25 PM ET

Analysis: Can Americans trust government's vast surveillance program?

There are those who think he's a defender of basic American freedoms, others who think he is a traitor to his country, and still others who just don't know what to think.

Edward Snowden is the 29-year-old intelligence contractor who leaked top-secret National Security Agency information, revealing the incredible extent to which the government is monitoring and keeping records of not just phone calls but also apparently e-mails, internet searches, downloads, photos, Facebook pages, and more.

Snowden told The Guardian newspaper, which broke this story, that he did this to wake up American citizens.

"Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded," Snowden tells The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald in a video that was published Saturday. "You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made."

Critics have questioned Snowden's motives, but not the authenticity of his information, which paints a picture of a massive surveillance state - a government that keeps tabs on data surrounding phone calls; and a national security infrastructure that has some sort of access to private e-mails.

The White House Monday said leaks like this help those who seek to kill Americans.

"Leaks of sensitive classified information, that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem. A serious problem," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Snowden is currently in hiding, his last reported location was Hong Kong.

Before leaking the information, he worked as an infrastructure analyst for intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, where he had access to national security information, though he contacted The Guardian newspaper in February, before he worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. In the past, he also worked for the CIA.

He was reportedly earning $200,000 per year, and sharing a home with his girlfriend in Hawaii, when he left home three weeks ago without telling her what he planned.

Update: Booz Allen released a statement Tuesday noting Snowden "had a salary at the rate of $122,000" and "was terminated June 10, 2013 for violations of the firm;s code of ethics and firm policy.

He said he went to Hong Kong because he thinks it's actually a lot more independent than many western governments.

The Guardian revealed Snowden's identity at his own request. Part of the reason Snowden said he went public is that President Obama let him down.

"I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama's promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor," Snowden told The Guardian.

Promises like one then-Senator Obama made in October 2007.

"Your next President will actually believe in the Constitution which you can't say about your current President," Obama said while campaigning in 2007. "One of the first things I'm going to do is call in my attorney general and say to him or her, I want you to review every executive order that's been issued by George Bush - whether it relates to warrantless wiretaps, or detaining people or reading e-mails, or whatever it is - I want you to go through every single one of them and if they are unconstitutional, or they are encroaching on civil liberties unnecessarily, we are going to overturn them. We are going to change them."

President Obama's push back is that he has increased the checks and balances for these programs, bringing the foreign surveillance courts into the process, for instance, and, he insists, looping in Congress.

"When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program," Obama said Friday.

That is just not true - every member of congress has not been briefed on the phone data program.

"Some members of Congress know about this but a lot don't. I mean, if you're not on the intelligence committee, you may not be in the loop at all. I'm not," Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota told CNN Friday.

But the president says not to worry - this is all being done by professionals who are responsible with these secrets. Now, it turns out that there are at least 1.4 million Americans with top secret access. And until a few days ago, Edward Snowden was one of those trustworthy souls.

Are Americans really to take at face value the "trust us" they are being told about this vast surveillance apparatus?

Snowden's move put it back on the people.

"The public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong, and I'm willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them and say, 'I didn't change these. I didn't modify the story. This is the truth, this is what's happening, you should decide whether we need to be doing this," Snowden told The Guardian.

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