A National Security Agency official said in an interview released Friday that he would be open to cutting an amnesty deal with intelligence leaker Edward Snowden if he agreed to stop divulging secret documents.
Rick Ledgett, who heads the NSA’s task force investigating the damage from the Snowden leaks, told CBS television’s “60 Minutes” program that some but not all of his colleagues share his view.
“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about” a possible deal, said Ledgett, according to excerpts of the interview due to air Sunday.
But Snowden would have to provide firm assurances that the remaining documents would be secured.
“My bar for those assurances would be very high… more than just an assertion on his part,” said Ledgett.
Snowden, a former intelligence contractor for the NSA, has been charged with espionage by US authorities for divulging reams of secret files.
He has secured asylum in Russia and insisted he spilled secrets to spark public debate and expose the NSA’s far-reaching surveillance.
But NSA chief General Keith Alexander rejects the idea of any amnesty for Snowden.
“This is analogous to a hostage-taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say ‘You give me full amnesty and I?ll let the other 40 go,'” Alexander told “60 Minutes.”
Alexander said an amnesty deal would set a dangerous precedent for any future leakers.
The four-star general, who is due to retire next year, also said he offered his resignation after the leak but that it was not accepted by President Barack Obama’s administration.
Snowden reportedly stole 1.7 million classified documents and Ledgett said he “wouldn?t dispute” that figure.
About 58,000 of the documents taken by Snowden have been passed to news media outlets, according to the editor of Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The CBS report also said an NSA analyst had discovered malware designed in China that could “destroy” infected computers.
NSA Information Assurance Director Debora Plunkett said the weapon was called the “Bios Plot,” after the key component in computers that performs basic steps such as turning on the operating system.
The malware was supposed to be disguised as an update for software, and after the user clicked on it, a virus would turn their computer into “a brick,” Plunkett said.
If launched, “Think about the impact of that across the entire globe,” she said. “It could literally take down the US economy.”
The NSA spoke with computer manufacturers to preempt the possible effect of the malware.