Last week, President Trump gave an interview to the New York Post in which he broached the subject of a pardon for Edward Snowden. For the uninitiated, depending on who you talk to, Edward Snowden is either a traitorous scoundrel or a true American hero whistleblower. In June of 2013, Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian was the first to publish Snowden’s revelations of a vast network of CIA and NSA spying programs and methods. These were instituted with noble intents in an effort in the war on terrorism, but apparently became political weapons in the hands of the Obama administration.
Since Snowden effectively outed himself as the source of the stories, he has lived in exile in Russia. Incidentally, he did not exclusively use the Guardian but other news outlets and he did not use WikiLeaks, as some erroneously believe. From most reports, his passport was suspended by Secretary of State John Kerry at the time while he was in transit, which is why he eventually ended up in Moscow.
According to most sources, an accurate assessment of damage done to ongoing investigations in light of Snowden’s revelations cannot be determined. At the time, John Brennan and James Clapper described them as something just short of the end of the world. Admiral Mike Rogers at the NSA did not go that far, but testified that although some damage was done such as terrorist cells switching tactics, the agency was adapting. One could surmise that alternative programs were put into place. It should be remembered that Snowden did not reveal the names of any intelligence operatives, but methods and names of programs.
One could make a case that Snowden’s revelations provided some “aid” to enemies of the United States- terrorists. One would have to examine that un-fully assessed damage to intelligence operations to determine the answer to that question. In this case, this writer will take the word of Adm. Mike Rogers over that of certified liars like Clapper and Brennan. If Edward Snowden provided “aid” to enemies, then under that expansive definition, so did Adam Schitt, Eric Swallowswell, and others since they persist in the Russia-Trump collusion hoax which hampered Trump’s first three years in office to the decided advantage of today’s big bad geopolitical bogeyman- Russia. That is, they more than Edward Snowden are greater threats to American democracy by their attempts to undermine the legitimacy of a duly elected President.
That being said and getting back to Snowden, this writer does not believe it is “espionage” under the established definitions. Prosecutions under the Espionage Act are more the purview of the Obama administration who rediscovered the law in their war on journalists. There are reports that Snowden, at the time, went to some authorities to report what he happened upon and later sought, but they were buried. He also talked to co-workers who encouraged him to drop his “crusade.”
Clearly, some of his digging into these programs was intentional. He admitted such when he took a pay cut between subcontractor jobs- less money for greater access to information. Hence, Edward Snowden is guilty of something, just nothing that will get him 20 years in jail.
Here is the thing: if a Secretary of State can be exonerated for having classified emails on an insecure private server network, act stupid about it, destroy cell phones, and “scrub” the server deleting thousands of emails, the Justice Department can do likewise with Snowden.
If Bradley “Call Me Chelsea” Manning can leak methods on how to thwart IED detection in a war zone putting American military lives at risk, then have a deserved sentence commuted afterwards, then one can excuse Edward Snowden. Manning’s revelations actually put lives at risk in Afghanistan since WikiLeaks does not redact names. Collateral damage videos out of Iraq, the names and social security numbers of American servicemen, or the names of cooperating Afghanis against al-Qaeda and the Taliban are a greater crime than the revelation of a code name for a spying operation. Far worse was committed by Hillary Clinton and Manning, yet they both walk free today.
I am not minimizing what Snowden did or revealed, and this not “what aboutism.” It is about people committing far worse transgressions and walking free today, some with god-hero status because they be-freaked themselves into a woman.
According to everything this writer has read on Snowden (and it is a lot), not everything was turned over to all these media outlets. Knowing what else Snowden knows or was/is in possession of could open new inquiries into the attempted coup against Trump. It should be remembered that although the revelations started in 2013, these programs had been in operation and had been used by people like John Brennan as an Obama adviser and CIA Director, and James Clapper, Obama’s DNI.
Could they have been weaponized against political opponents? We know the answer to that: YES. Were they? There we do not know the answer and perhaps never will.
In the end, Edward Snowden is not some great American hero, but neither is he the second coming of Benedict Arnold. One wonders what secrets Snowden holds in his head or secured in some safe box in Hong Kong or Moscow. Give him a slap on the wrist for violating the terms of his security clearance.
Incidentally, the NSA and military need to do a better job in this area since there were warning signs in the case of both Manning and Snowden. In Manning’s case, holding a knife to your mother in Kansas should have sent up warning flags. With Snowden, lying about your John Hopkins degree should have been a warning sign. With Clinton? Her birth certificate.
Thus, I come down on the side of Snowden: a full pardon as concerns espionage charges, suspended sentence for violating terms of his security clearance (he already served a 7-year sentence living in Moscow; it’s cold there!) and a consent decree not to profit off of anything in the future. Write a book (he has)? Profits go to charity. That could be worked out in the pending DOJ civil case filed against him in September, 2019.