Two of the most widely-read newspapers on the planet are asking the United States government to give clemency to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, and even a former official from the US State Department says she has to agree.
The editorial boards at both the New York Times and Britain’s The Guardian newspapers published similar pleas on their respective op-ed pages on New Year’s Day this week, each imploring the US government to abandon its pursuit for the former intelligence contractor.
Snowden, 30, has been in Russia since late June after he fled the US for Hong Kong. There he identified himself as the source responsible for taking a trove of classified NSA documents that have been cited by reporters at the Times, the Guardian and elsewhere during the last half-year through articles that continue to pull back the curtain on the American spy agency’s controversial and previously underreported surveillance programs. A review panel put together by US President Barack Obama released a report last month detailing 46 recommendations for reforming those programs, but the White House and Department of Justice publically remain disinterested in dropping charges of espionage against Mr. Snowden.
Both the Times’ and Guardian’s editorial board wrote this week that shot callers in Washington should reconsider.
“Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight,” the Times board wrote on Wednesday. “It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”
“We hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr. Snowden to return to the US with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself,” journalists at the Guardian added in their own op-ed.
Within hours, the editorials attracted support by those close to the Snowden affair — and not just from the usual parties either. The official Twitter account for the American Civil Liberties Union wrote early Thursday that they “couldn’t agree more” with the Times’ claim that Snowden “has done his country a good service,” and Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth used that same platform to say the NSA leaker has “exposed major misconduct” while others who attempted to blow the whistle on egregious government activity by other means were ignored or prosecuted.
“He should be pardoned,” Roth wrote.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) January 2, 2014
Snowden exposed major misconduct. Others filing official complaints were ignored/persecuted. He should be pardoned. http://t.co/P5uj8TlIKX
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) January 2, 2014
Perhaps the most unexpected plea for clemency, however, came courtesy of Ann-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning at the US State Department who served during former-Secretary Hillary Clinton’s tenure with the Obama administration.
“I agree with @nytimes on Snowden,” she tweeted early Thursday.
Her remarks come only weeks after a current high-ranking official with the NSA said he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of pushing a deal on Snowden that would spare him criminal prosecution, likely in exchange for his cooperation with regards to the fate of the pilfered documents — believed to be anywhere in the ballpark of 50,000 to 1.7 million, depending on the source. Ledgett was asked by CBS News’ 60 Minutes program if he believes amnesty should be offered to Snowden when he responded, “My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about.”
— Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) January 2, 2014
"I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured and my bar for those assurances would be very high,” Ledgett added. “It would be more than just an assertion on his part."
During that same report, however, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander dismissed that option and said, “I think people have to be held accountable for their actions.”
Following the 60 Minutes special, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration’s “position has not changed on that matter at all.” The review panel hand-picked by the president has since agreed that the operations exposed by Mr. Snowden are indeed in need of reform, however, and last month a federal judge said the NSA’s dragnet collection of telephony metadata as revealed by Snowden is “likely unconstitutional.” Another federal judge has since opined differently in a similar suit filed after classified documents were first leaked by the former contractor.
Previously, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Diane Feinstein accused Snowden of doing an “enormous disservice” to the US, and said, “I think the answer is no clemency.”
On Fox News Thursday afternoon, Rep Peter King (R-New York), the former chairman of the House intel committee, said the New York Times is “absolutely wrong” to ask for clemency and called the paper’s editors “a disgrace.”