The editorial board of the New York Times has a New Year’s wish for Edward Snowden — thanks, clemency, and a chance to return home.
In an editorial published Wednesday Jan. 1, the Times endorsed the actions of the former National Security Agency contractor for starting a global conversation about the balance between security and privacy following the leaks of major surveillance programs that began last summer.
“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 said. “He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. 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.”
Snowden has already been charged with stealing government property, communicating national defense information without authorization, and communicating classified communications intelligence to unauthorized persons – violations of the Espionage Act, each of which includes a 10 year prison sentence.
According to the Times, should Snowden return and face the federal case against him as President Obama suggested, more charges would be added and the former NSA contractor would likely face life in prison.
“When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government,” The Times said. “That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.”
Despite the president’s insistence that Snowden could have revealed the signals intelligence agency’s abuses by taking his concerns to his superiors via an executive order granting whistleblower protection, the Times rightly points out that protection does not apply to contractors.
In addition, Snowden states he tried on two occasions to reveal the agency’s overreach to superiors, only to have his concerns ignored. The NSA claims there’s no evidence these conversations ever took place.
“In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not,” The Times said.
The editorial includes a short rundown of the agency’s abuses and overreaches brought to light by Snowden, including breaking federal privacy laws, misleading the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, lying to congressional oversight committees, hacking and stealing information from private communications service providers and monitoring the private telephone and internet data of millions of U.S. and international citizens.