The White House on Tuesday stopped short of branding Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old American who leaked details of a vast US telephone and Internet surveillance program, a "traitor."
President Barack Obama's spokesman Jay Carney fended off all questions about Snowden, who was last known to be in Hong Kong, on the grounds that a legal investigation was under way.
"I won't characterize him or his status. We believe it is the appropriate posture to take to let the investigation move forward," he said.
Carney said the White House would leave it up to the FBI and the Department of Justice to make judgments on Snowden's conduct.
Asked what government employees who believe they detect waste or illegal activity in government programs should do, Carney said the Obama White House has introduced new protections for so-called "whistleblowers."
He said that Obama had signed an executive directive requiring protections for intelligence community whistleblowers who use "appropriate" channels -- implicitly not leaks to newspapers as Snowden did -- to expose alleged wrongdoing.
Asked whether he would describe the former CIA technician and intelligence contractor as a "whistleblower" or a "leaker," Carney demurred.
The White House says the National Security Agency intelligence programs are legal and are subject to adequate oversight by Congress and the judiciary.
The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, earlier described Snowden's actions in leaking details of NSA programs to the Guardian and Washington Post as a "giant" violation of law.
"He's a traitor," Boehner told ABC News in an interview.
"The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are," Boehner said.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein -- the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence -- has said US authorities are vigorously pursuing Snowden.