Watching the Citizenfour documentary (which I recommend highly), it’s apparent that Snowden revealed the sweeping extent of the NSA’s spying not out of malice, not for money, and not out of disloyalty, but rather because he wanted to serve the people by shedding light on the dangerous activities of powerful governmental agencies. Snowden, in short, was motivated by patriotism. He saw how power was corrupting governmental agencies like the NSA, he recognized the dangers of that power to democracy, and he acted to warn the people of the possibility of this power ending in tyranny.
If he returns to the USA, how should he be punished? May I suggest that he receive the same penalty as General David Petraeus, who also leaked highly classified information? That penalty would be two years’ probation and a $40,000 fine.
Actually, that penalty wouldn’t be fair to Snowden, since Petraeus’s motivation for leaking classified information was personal. According to The New York Times, Petraeus shared his “black book” notes, much of the content highly classified, freely to Paula Broadwell, his lover and biographer. He apparently did so in order that she could write a more glowing account of his life. It’s also possible that this was part of the seduction process between the two: the sharing of those “sexy,” highly classified notes in exchange for further intimacies exchanged between the sheets (orunder the desk).