Thanks largely to a movie debuting across the United States, Edward Snowden is back in the media spotlight and his fate debated anew.
Snowden is the former intelligence contractor who leaked sensitive documents about secret U.S. surveillance programs in 2013. He then fled the United States and has since been living in Moscow after Russia granted him political asylum.
Snowden claims to be a whistleblower who uncovered surveillance activity by the National Security Agency that was eventually deemed unconstitutional and then prohibited by congressional action. Federal prosecutors charged him with three felonies under the 1917 Espionage Act.
Three human rights organizations are urging President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden for his alleged crimes, which they characterize as “an act of conscience.” But a new House Intelligence Committee report portrays Snowden as “a serial exaggerator and fabricator” who caused” tremendous damage to national security.” The committee urged Obama against a pardon.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday Snowden should return to the U.S. and face the charges against him.
Edward Snowden: patriot or pariah?
Pardon Edward Snowden
Kenneth Roth & Salil Shetty – The New York Times
Mr. Snowden’s whistle-blowing prompted reactions across the government. Courts found the government wrong to use Section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify mass phone data collection. Congress replaced that law with the USA Freedom Act, improving transparency about government surveillance and limiting government power to collect certain records. The president appointed an independent review board, which produced important reform recommendations….
Eric H. Holder Jr. struck a more measured tone in May, about a year after he left office as Mr. Obama’s attorney general. He recognized that while Mr. Snowden broke the law, “he actually performed a public service” by raising the national debate on surveillance practices….
The enormous value of Mr. Snowden’s revelations is clear. What was their harm? Scant evidence has been provided for many officials’ ominous statements.
WATCH: Excerpt of interview with Edward Snowden conducted by The New York Times on September 14, 2016.
Pardon Me, I’m Edward Snowden
Alex Beam – Boston Globe
Speaking by video link from his de facto Moscow prison, Snowden argued his case to a Guardian interviewer: “This isn’t about me, it’s about us,” he said. “Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but perhaps this is why the pardon power exists — for the exceptions.”
That’s not really why the pardon power exists — it’s to correct judicial malfeasance, among other things — but never mind that. Why does Snowden get to pick which laws apply to him and which don’t? If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
WATCH: White House Spokesman Josh Earnest responds to a question about the possibility of a presidential pardon for Edward Snowden
Former CIA Officer: President Obama Should Pardon Edward Snowden
Barry Eisler – Time
All nations require some secrecy. But in a democracy, where the government is accountable to the people, transparency should be the default; secrecy, the exception. And this is especially true regarding the implementation of an unprecedented system of domestic bulk surveillance, a mere precursor of which Senator Frank Church warned 40 years ago could lead to the eradication of privacy and the imposition of “total tyranny.”
That today we are engaged in a meaningful debate about whether such a system is desirable is almost entirely due to the conscience, courage and conviction of one man: Edward Snowden. Without Snowden, the American people could not balance for themselves the risks, costs and benefits of omniscient domestic surveillance. Because of him, we can.
WATCH: Official trailer for the movie “Snowden”
Why President Obama Won’t, and Shouldn’t, Pardon Snowden
Jack Goldsmith – Lawfare
[I]t is naïve or disingenuous to think that the damage to U.S. intelligence operations was anything but enormous….Much remains unknown regarding the extent of the damage (because the intelligence community cannot publicly say much beyond generalities) and the specifics of Snowden’s actions and motivations (because DOJ is preserving a criminal prosecution). I imagine we would learn considerably more information—from both sides, but especially from the government—if a criminal trial ever took place….
Another reason why Snowden won’t and shouldn’t be pardoned for his actions is that doing so would have a demoralizing effect on the thousands of intelligence community personnel who devote (and in some cases risk) their lives to U.S. national security, and who follow the rules laid down by Congress and the President, and whose work was diminished, and whose jobs were made much harder, as a result of Snowden’s non-U.S. related disclosures.