nobel.jpgFormer CIA employee Edward Snowden may soon add another entry to his list of life accomplishments: the Nobel Peace Prize. Jan. 29, two Norwegian politicians released a joint statement on their website nominating Snowden for the well-known honor.

Last year, Snowden rose to global prominence when he leaked U.S. government documents detailing secret surveillance by the NSA and other organizations. He was charged with theft of government property and is currently in Russia with temporary asylum.

Typically, when I think of Nobel Peace Prize winners, I think of celebrated heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama.

It has been less than a year since Snowden leaked the documents. He is still a controversial figure and his actions are far from universally considered heroic, if they ever will be. Is it not too soon to be granting him one of the most prestigious international awards?

As it turns out, the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden puts him in very good company.

King had enemies in high places, including in the FBI. In late 1963, just one year before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the agency bugged his phone, supposedly due to allegations that he or other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were communists. Even though he was never shown to be, the government attempted to pressure him out of his leadership position.

King received plenty of opposition and criticism from other sources, including local and state governments. He was arrested 30 times, according to The King Center’s website. He even faced opposition from other African-Americans seeking civil rights, like Malcolm X.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, received acclaim for his reverence for all living things, according to the Nobel Peace Prize’s website. However, one cannot overlook the fact that he was in exile from his native Tibet, protesting its occupation by China, when he received the award.

From Lui Xiaobo and Shirin Ebadi to Aung San Suu Kyi, the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners includes many who were persecuted or arrested even as their efforts were recognized by the Nobel Foundation. As shown with King, this treatment can even come from our government in the United States.

Some, like former President George W. Bush, claim Snowden’s actions harmed the nation’s security. Perhaps he released too many documents too quickly, but the award is not U.S.-centered nor is it based on any one nation’s individual security.

Creating the award in his will, Alfred Nobel wrote that the Peace Prize shall go “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Can a government that secretly monitors others and its own citizens without limit possibly establish “fraternity between nations” or promote “peace congresses?”

The documents Snowden revealed were an embarrassment to the U.S. government, but they have forced an honest dialogue among it, other nations and our citizens, with more than a few apologies. Are these genuine? Will our government grow more transparent or will it return to its old ways?

These matters are firmly beyond Snowden’s control. However, his actions brought a much-needed level of transparency to our country’s intelligence infrastructure. He did so at personal risk, the possibility of arrest and imprisonment very real, yet he still chose to follow through. In whatever way this ends, people are asking questions and seeking accountability in ways that were impossible before. This is all thanks to Edward Snowden.

Criminal? Maybe. Hero? Possibly. Difference-maker? Certainly.