Protesters demand that Germany grant  Edward Snowden asylum  during a march  in Hamburg.

Protesters demand that Germany grant Edward Snowden asylum during a march in Hamburg. Photo: AFP

Washington: The former head of the Department of Homeland Security has said Edward Snowden doesn't deserve clemency for exposing the broad reach of US surveillance programs.

Janet Napolitano, who left the post in August to become president of the University of California system, said on NBC's  Meet the Press that Mr Snowden's leaks had hurt the US. She rejected calls made in editorials by the New York Times and London's Guardian newspapers that Mr Snowden, now living under temporary asylum in Russia, be granted clemency.

The US has charged Snowden with theft and espionage for leaking documents to various publications last year that unveiled the breadth of the spying managed by the National Security Agency, where he worked as a contractor.

"I think Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated the law," Ms Napolitano said. "I think he's committed crimes and I think that the damage we'll see now and we'll see it for years to come."

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian-minded Republican, said he disagreed with those who have argued for the most severe penalties for Mr Snowden.

"I don't think Edward Snowden deserves a death penalty or life in prison; I think that's inappropriate, and I think that's why he fled, because that's what he faced," Senator Paul said on the ABC News program This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

"I think, really, in the end," Senator Paul added, "history's going to judge that he revealed great abuses of our government and great abuses of our intelligence community".

Without directly suggesting some sort of bargain to lessen the charges facing Mr Snowden, Senator Paul said: "I think the only way he's coming home is if someone would offer him a fair trial with a reasonable sentence."

But a leading Democratic senator, Charles Schumer of New York, took a directly opposing view on the same program.

"I disagree with Rand Paul that we should plea-bargain with him prior to him coming back," Senator Schumer said.

Senator Schumer said that if Mr Snowden considered himself part of the "grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country" - a tradition he said included the Reverend Martin Luther King jnr and Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers four decades ago - he should return home to stand trial and face the consequences of his actions. Such a trial, Senator Schumer said, could be enlightening for the country.

"So, running away, being helped by Russia and China, is not in the tradition of a true civil disobedience practitioner," Senator Schumer added.

Senator Paul  suggested that James  Clapper jnr, the Director of National Intelligence, might deserve to go to jail for his misleading testimony in March, before the Snowden revelations began to emerge.

Asked at an open congressional hearing whether the security agency collected "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans'', he replied: "No, sir," adding, "Not wittingly."

Mr Clapper later told NBC that the question had seemed, at the time, to be unanswerable by a simple yes or no. "So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying, 'No.' " 

New York Times, Bloomberg