There is an increasing roar coming from the hard libertarians, the hard left and the hard right demanding that former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst-turned-cyber-security leaker Edward Snowden be pardoned, but the U.S. political establishment would rather hang him.
Following the recent wide release of Snowden, Oliver Stone’s hero-worshipping movie, Snowden made a televised address on September 13 asking President Obama to pardon him as a “whistleblower” during the so-called “Lame Duck” period before the next president is inaugurated on January 20, 2017.
The former NSA contractor, who has been living in exile in Russia for the last three years, says that he deserves clemency because his disclosures of highly classified information about the U.S. and British surveillance programs were morally right and have directly benefitted the American public.
Snowden said in an interview with the Guardian on the same day as his Obama request, ”Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists—for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things.”
Two days later, the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee published a scathing report declaring Snowden is “not a whistleblower.” The public section of the report claims that most of the material Snowden stole from NSA outposts were classified intelligence methods and defense programs that were prime targets of America’s foreign adversaries. Snowden is accused of lying about his background, feuding with co-workers and leaking secrets that have “caused tremendous damage” to U.S. national security.
The intelligence committee only released the 4-page summary of the staff’s 36-page investigative report. The full report remains highly classified, but the states that the “full scope” of damage caused by Snowden’s serial leaks remain unknown. The report emphasizes that Snowden “handed over secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states.”
President Obama gave pardons or clemency in only about 150 cases during his first 7 years in office. But in August 2016, he granted over 200 pardons. Now, a chorus of libertarian tech leaders, progressive intellectuals and top conservative bloggers are hammering the White House to bring Snowden back as a free man.
As the political establishment’s favorite newspaper, the Washington Post editorial board argued on September 17 that a pardon would be “complicated” issue and “President Obama’s answer should continue to be ‘no.’” The Post demanded that Snowden accept some “criminal responsibility” for the leaks. They refer to Snowden’s actions as “aggressive dishonesty” and want him either to stand trial on espionage charges or take a plea bargain from the U.S. government.
Snowden claims that he could never get a fair trial, because U.S. government officials want to assassinate him for leaking top secret NSA documents. According to cyber-leaks since he turned up in Moscow, Snowden takes precautions because of “significant threats” to his life for disclosing NSA secrets.
Snowden has publicly commented, “I’m still alive and don’t lose sleep for what I did because it was the right thing to do.”