Why Snowden shouldn’t get clemency

Fred Kaplan writes at Slate:

I regard Daniel Ellsberg as an American patriot. I was one of the first columnists to write that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be firedfor lying to Congress. On June 7, two days after the first news stories based on ’s leaks, I wrote a column airing (and endorsing) the concerns of Brian Jenkins, a leading counterterrorism expert, that the government’s massive surveillance program had created “the foundation of a very oppressive state.”

And yet I firmly disagree with the New York Times’ Jan. 1 editorial (“Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower”), calling on President Obama to grant Snowden “some form of clemency” for the “great service” he has done for his country.

Kaplan is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who specialises in military and foreign policy.

It is true that Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance of American citizens—far vaster than any outsider had suspected, in some cases vaster than the agency’s overseers on the secret FISA court had permitted—have triggered a valuable debate,leading possibly to much-needed reforms.

If that were all that Snowden had done, if his stolen trove of beyond-top-secret documents had dealt only with the NSA’s domestic surveillance, then some form of leniency might be worth discussing.

But Snowden did much more than that. The documents that he gave the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald have, so far, furnished stories about the NSA’s interception of email traffic, mobile phone calls, and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s northwest territories; about an operation to gauge the loyalties of CIA recruits in Pakistan; about NSA email intercepts to assist intelligence assessments of what’s going on inside Iran; about NSA surveillance of cellphone calls “worldwide,” an effort that (in the Post’s words) “allows it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.” In his first interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden revealed that the NSA routinely hacks into hundreds of computers in China and Hong Kong.

These operations have nothing to do with domestic surveillance or even spying on allies. They are not illegal, improper, or (in the context of 21st-century international politics) immoral. Exposing such operations has nothing to do with “whistle-blowing.”

Some of what Snowden did was whistle-blowing and it is a good thing we can now debate the extent and acceptability of these activities. But as Kaplan states, Snowden went well beyond that and has revealed info which are seriously detrimental to his country’s interests.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson, who has called on Obama to “pardon” Snowden, cited Jimmy Carter’s pardoning of Vietnam-era draft dodgers as “a useful parallel when thinking about Snowden’s legal situation.” This suggestion is mind-boggling on several levels. Among other things, Snowden signed an oath, as a condition of his employment as an NSA contractor, not to disclose classified information, and knew the penalties for violating the oath. The young men who evaded the draft, either by fleeing to Canada or serving jail terms, did so in order to avoid taking an oath to fight a war that they opposed—a war that was over, and widely reviled, by the time that Carter pardoned them.

There are no such extenuating circumstances favoring forgiveness of Snowden. TheTimes editorial paints an incomplete picture when it claims that he “stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness.” In fact, as Snowden himself told the South China Morning Post, he took his job as an NSA contractor, with Booz Allen Hamilton, because he knew that his position would grant him “access to lists of machines all over the world [that] the NSA hacked.” He stayed there for just three months, enough to do what he came to do.

That is key – he took up the job with the intention of stealing classified documents.

Is a clear picture emerging of why Snowden’s prospects for clemency resemble the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell? He gets himself placed at the NSA’s signals intelligence center in Hawaii for the sole purpose of pilfering extremely classified documents. (How many is unclear: I’ve heard estimates ranging from “tens of thousands” to 1.1 million.)  He gains access to many of them by lying to his fellow workers (and turning them into unwitting accomplices). Then he flees to Hong Kong (a protectorate of China, especially when it comes to foreign policy) and, from there, to Russia.

And who is he now allied with?

Did the Times editorialists review the statement that Snowden made to a human rights group in Moscow this past July, soon after Vladimir Putin granted him asylum? He thanked the nations that had offered him support. “These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, have my gratitude and respect,” he proclaimed, “for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful.”

Yes those countries are all great defenders of human rights.


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