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‘I already won’: Snowden is helping the NSA though it brands him a traitor

Published time: December 24, 2013 03:50
Edited time: December 25, 2013 13:15
Reuters / Tobias Schwarz

Reuters / Tobias Schwarz

Edward Snowden has said he feels satisfied and a winner despite the espionage charges confronting him. Denying claims he is a traitor, Snowden said he is working to improve the NSA, something that US spy chiefs do not realize.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Snowden said that he had “already won” because society has begun to address the issue of government surveillance.

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” said the whistleblower. “Remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

He went on to defend his actions, saying that accusations from NSA brass that he violated an oath of loyalty were baseless. If anyone is guilty of such crimes, Snowden said, it is the national security establishment.

“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” Snowden said. “That is an oath to the constitution. That is the oath that I kept that [NSA Director] Keith Alexander and [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper did not.”

The heads of the spy agency have repeatedly criticized Edward Snowden’s actions, claiming they endangered the global battle against terrorism and by extension put American citizens at risk. However, Snowden says his main aims were to allow society the chance to determine if it wanted to change and to improve the NSA.

The Obama Administration has called for Snowden to be returned to the US to face charges of espionage. However, if the whistleblower returns he would likely not be allowed to tell a jury about his motivation to blow the whistle on far-reaching NSA surveillance programs.

“If Edward Snowden comes back to the US to face trial, it is likely he will not be able to tell a jury why he did what he did, and what happened because of his actions,” wrote Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which published a report investigating recent crimes of this nature.

The US Department of Justice first filed charges against Snowden in late June but the discussion has resurfaced because some officials have pushed for amnesty if he surrenders any still-unpublished classified National Security Agency files. Many politicians have suggested that Snowden should emerge from asylum in Russia and stand trial, although they have not suggested the whistleblower should go free of charges.

“We believe he should come back, he should be sent back, and he should have his day in court,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice told CBS Sunday.

Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee who previously joked that Snowden should be added to a “kill list,” also said the NSA leaker should face trial in the US.

“I do think he should come home – I’d personally pay for his plane ticket – and be held accountable for his actions,” Rogers told ABC.

Yet these statements, either by accident or intentionally, overlook that Snowden, 30, has been charged with the Espionage Act and faces the likelihood that not all of his testimony will be allowed to be heard by a jury or into the court record at all. Individuals charged with the Espionage Act, which was signed into law during World War I, rarely go to trial, something that remains true under the Obama administration’s especially aggressive crackdown on whistleblowers.

The American public saw this most recently in the trial of Chelsea Manning, the former Army private charged with Espionage for leaking hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and video footage from Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks.

Manning’s defense team said that she hoped to expose to US citizens some of the atrocities that were conducted in their name. Manning also sought to prove that the leaks had done no damage to US national security, but all of these factors were ruled inadmissible until the sentencing phase of the trial.

Manning would be found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in a federal prison.

A federal judge ruled in October 2012 that former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was charged with the Espionage Act because he made unauthorized disclosures to the media regarding torture programs, was not allowed to argue at trial that he did not intend to harm the US.

Instead of taking his chances, Kiriakou opted to plead guilty and serve a prison term of no more than five years.

Yet Snowden is facing 30 years behind bars, along with stiff fines. If he eventually does go to trial in the US he could face the same treatment Kiriakou and Manning did, even if his disclosures sparked a conversation that was still going strong six months after he fled to Russia.

Barton Gellman, the Washington Post journalist who spoke with Snowden, told RT that all the threats and predictions for the future appear to have no effect on the whistleblower. Gellman maintained that through the entire 14-hour interview, Snowden appeared unconcerned with what will happen to him over the rest of his life.

He is remarkably at peace with everything, he's a man under considerable pressure, I must assume, but he doesn't show it,” Gellman said. “He's feeling like he did what he set out to do. When he says he accomplished his mission what he means is that he's taken a very important subject out of a secret world and handed it to the public so that people can decide where they want to draw the line instead of having the lines drawn for them.”

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