In perhaps the most mainstream defense of Edward Snowden yet, the New York Times' editorial board published an article yesterday calling on the United States to grant at least partial clemency to the former NSA contractor, who the Times identified as a "whistle-blower" who has "done his country a great service."

The editorial credits Snowden's leaks for informing the public "in great detail how the [NSA] has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority." As proof, the paper cites the two federal judges who have ruled the NSA likely violated the Constitution (and a third who "unfortunately" ruled that the NSA's phone meta data program was legal), the White House-appointed panel that called for significant changes to the NSA's spying programs, the revelation that director of intelligence James Clapper Jr. lied during his testimony to Congress last March, and the fact that the NSA's own internal auditor found that the spy agency violated federal privacy laws thousands of times per year. From the Times:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

The Times also argues that Snowden was correct to leak the information in the manner that he did, instead of seeking official whistle-bl0wer protection, as President Obama has suggested he should have done. As the Times notes, the executive-order Obama referenced during a press conference in August applies only to intelligence employees, not contractors, and when Snowden reportedly told superiors about the potential abuses, he was ignored.

"When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government," the Times' editorial board wrote, adding, "President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden's vilification and give him an incentive to return home."

The editorial comes just one week after Edward Snowden, during his first substantial interview in months, told the Washington Post that his mission was accomplished.

[Image via AP]