When NSA contractor Edward Snowden first released thousand and thousands of documents about the agency's secret worldwide surveillance apparatus, the response from the White House was not enthusiastic.

"Unfortunately," said President Obama in an August 2013 press conference, "instead of an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate but not always fully informed way."

But this week, three years after the initial leak, former Attorney General Eric Holder is characterizing it a little differently. "We can certainly argue about the way Snowden did what he did," he said in an interview with fellow former Obama staffer David Axelrod, "but I think he actually performed a public service by raising the debate."

Juliette Kayyem, homeland security expert and host of the "Security Mom" podcast, agreed—but, like Holder, also believes Snowden should return to the United States to face trial for illegally releasing classified information.

"We tend to think of good and evil as the only binary options," she said. "One can think what Snowden did was a public service to have a discussion about surveillance and disclose a surveillance program most people did not know about...but also [think he should] suffer a penalty."

Snowden, if convicted, faces up to 30 years in prison if he returns to the United States. Kayyem said she believed the penalty should be far less harsh.

"I would make a deal that he serves anywhere from three to five years," she said. 

"It was a serious disclosure. Separate whether you think it was public service from how he did it," she continued. "He basically just released a lot of classified information that contained our sources and methods, that put people in harm. You're not going to give him a bye for that."

To hear more from Juliette Kayyem, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.