The news: During the Sunday morning shows on Jan. 19, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) – heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, respectively – seemed to imply that whistleblower Edward Snowden had ties with a foreign government before leaking confidential documents regarding the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance operations. In other words, they think he was a Russian spy.
While this might sound like the makings of a new espionage thriller, the allegations are, right now, baseless.
As the New York Times points out, "there has been no public indication that the FBI's investigation of Mr. Snowden's actions … uncovered evidence that Mr. Snowden received help from a foreign intelligence service."
So as much as congressional leaders might hope that Snowden was working as a spy, there is no evidence to back up those claims. But a lack of evidence didn't stop Rogers and Feinstein from speculating on Sunday.
"I believe there's a reason [Snowden] ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don't think that's a coincidence," Rogers said on Meet the Press, referring to Snowden's asylum in Russia. Rogers called Snowden a "thief whom we believe had some help," and suggested it was unlikely Snowden acted alone.
Likewise, Feinstein was skeptical that Snowden pulled the leaks off by himself. When David Gregory, the host of Meet the Press, asked her if she believed Snowden had help from a foreign government, she replied: "He may well have. We don't know at this stage. But I think to glorify this act is to set a new level of dishonor."
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, got in on the action too, and he was less coy about it: "I believe [Snowden] was cultivated by a foreign power to do what he did," he said to ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Again, there is no evidence to back this up. The FBI still believes that Snowden acted alone. And yet certain senators and representatives choose to disregard that simple fact.
This is how rumors get started: Public officials go on record spouting accusations with no grounding in evidence. All they have to do is plant the idea in the public's mind and see it take off. Until investigations produce something concrete that links Snowden to a foreign government, claims that he was acting as a spy are little more than empty conjecture.