Photo: AP

Sometimes it takes a really long time to find the words to describe the act of tipping off the international community to the entrenched government and corporate surveillance structures that have massively encroached upon its rights.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told former Senior Advisor to the President David Axelrod on his podcast “The Axe Files” that Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by igniting an international debate about surveillance, power, and privacy rights.

This is a step farther than the Democratic and Republican presumptive presidential nominees have hazarded to go. Hillary Clinton claimed during a presidential debate in October that Snowden’s actions were wrongheaded, that he is not a whistleblower but a thief, and that he should return to the U.S. to stand trial.

In 2013, during an interview with “Fox & Friends,” Donald Trump implied that Snowden should be executed.

Holder also said that, should Snowden return from exile in Russia to face trial in the U.S., he would hope the judge take into consideration the ways in which these revelations have elevated the public discourse around surveillance issues.

Earlier this month, Snowden reminded the audience at a University of Chicago event that such arguments are unlikely to move a judge. “As I think you’re quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense,” Snowden said.

Holder conceded that Snowden still could have done a better job of alerting Americans to the Orwellian state of their government. “I would say that doing what he did—and the way he did it—was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder said.

Snowden tweeted a link to a forty-six seconds of the interview containing Holder’s “public service” comment.

Holder helmed the Justice Department when the Snowden leaks were first publicized in 2013. Even then, Holder acknowledged that Snowden’s unauthorized disclosures had led to a “healthy conversation.” It just took him a few years to ascribe that “conversation” to Snowden.