EXCLUSIVE: Father of Edward Snowden urges son not to commit 'treason,' to return home

The father of the former NSA contractor who leaked details of the government's massive Internet- and phone-tracking programs made an impassioned plea to his son to stop leaking, telling Fox News that "I hope, I pray" he does not do anything considered treasonous.

Lon Snowden spoke at length with Fox News about his son Edward's decision to leak sensitive security details about U.S. intelligence-gathering operations. While defending his son's integrity and criticizing the government, he pleaded with his son -- who is thought to be weathering the political storm from a location in Hong Kong -- to return home and not to leak more information.

"I hope, I pray and I ask that you will not release any secrets that could constitute treason," Snowden told Fox News, in a message meant for his son's ears. He added: "I sense that you're under much stress [from] what I've read recently, and [ask] that you not succumb to that stress ... and make a bad decision."

Further, Snowden said he would rather see his son return to the U.S. and face the U.S. justice system than stay abroad.

"I would like to see Ed come home and face this. I shared that with the government when I spoke with them. I love my son," he told Fox News' Eric Bolling.

More On This...

Snowden claimed there are some people who want him to "cross that line and do something that constitutes treason, or they would like to see him disappear." But Snowden said he's sure "that the moment he landed that there would be a line of attorneys waiting to defend him."

Edward Snowden himself did not voice that level of confidence. During a live online chat hosted by Guardian.com on Monday, Snowden said he doesn't think he would receive a fair trial in the U.S.

"The U.S. Government, just as they did with other whistle-blowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it," he said during the chat.

Snowden also claimed he did not reveal any U.S. operations against "legitimate military targets," but rather NSA efforts against "civilian infrastructure."

Snowden has emerged at the center of one of the biggest security leaks in U.S. history. After The Guardian news organization and Washington Post reported on government programs that monitor massive troves of phone and Internet records, Snowden was revealed as the source of that information. According to The Guardian, Snowden continues to provide sensitive information -- The Guardian most recently reported on a British effort to hack into foreign diplomats' phones and emails during conferences, citing Snowden as the source.

Snowden could face serious charges if he returns to the U.S. Former Vice President Dick Cheney called Snowden a "traitor" on "Fox News Sunday."

But others have praised his decision to come forward, citing the civil liberties at stake.

Lon Snowden said he was "saddened" by his son's decision, but criticized the government for the surveillance efforts his son helped expose.

"Some people are suggesting that what's occurring is very similar to every morning the government walks up to your mailbox, or afternoon. They pull the envelopes out. They open them. They look at your mail. They copy it. They archive it in case they wanna look at it sometime in the future in case you do something wrong sometime in the future. They re-seal the envelopes, they put them back in your mailbox. And they do it every day over and over and over again."

He continued: "I don't want them reading my email. ... If we say, "Oh my gosh, we're going to have to ... sacrifice our freedoms because of the threat of terrorism,' well, the terrorists have already won, because it's our freedoms that make us Americans."

He said he's concerned his son is "in peril," but voiced confidence that if he returns to the U.S., that would be best.

"I have faith in our justice system applied correctly, absolutely. You know, I would rather my son be a prisoner in the U.S. than a free man in a country that did not have ... the freedoms that are protected" in the U.S., he said.

He complained there are a lot of misconceptions about his son, including speculation about why he chose to stay in Hong Kong. Snowden said his son was simply "comfortable" there and with Asian culture in general, since he used to live in Japan.

As for media reports that he's a high-school dropout, he explained that his son actually had an illness during his sophomore year -- likely mono. But after he dropped out, he said his son completed his high-school equivalency and went on to take college courses.

He said he last saw his son on April 4. "We'd gone out to dinner," he said, adding that his son seemed to be carrying a "burden."

"We hugged as we always do. He said, 'I love you Dad.' I said, 'I love you, Ed.' And I expected to see him -- see him again," Snowden recalled.

Fox News' Eric Bolling contributed to this report.