- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2013

With the Obama administration’s surveillance and data-collection efforts in the spotlight like never before, the man who exposed the depth of those programs is open to returning to the U.S. under the “right conditions.”

A top legal adviser to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who ascended to fame this year and was runner-up to Pope Francis as Time magazine’s “person of the year,” said Sunday that the famous leaker wants to come back to his home country if he is guaranteed safety and the prospect of a fair and open trial.

“I think he would love to be back in this country. He’s a patriotic American. He loves his homeland and would love to come back if the conditions were right,” said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director at the Government Accountability Project. She appeared Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Snowden remains in Russia, where he has been granted asylum. In the U.S., he’s been charged with espionage and other offenses and is accused by lawmakers and many in the intelligence community of compromising national security.

Last week, he delivered a “Christmas message,” warning that children born today “will never know what it means to have a private moment” amid increased government snooping.

While supporters see Mr. Snowden as a heroic whistleblower who exposed the abuses of government, others see him as possibly guilty of treason.

“I used to say he was a defector. I’m now kind of drifting in the direction of more harsh language, such as traitor,” said Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of both the NSA and CIA, who was also on “Face the Nation.”

Whatever terms are used to describe him, Mr. Snowden has spurred a national conversation about the balance between national security and Americans’ right to personal privacy. That conversation now is playing out at the highest levels of government and in federal courts.

Before leaving for his Hawaii vacation, President Obama was presented with a lengthy report from a five-member panel appointed by the White House to study surveillance practices and make recommendations on how to best protect privacy in the 21st-century, post-Sept. 11 world.

Among many other suggestions, the group said the federal government should stop collecting metadata, massive amounts of information on Americans’ telephone calls, and instead should allow private companies or other third parties to retain it.

Mr. Obama is expected to announce changes to government surveillance sometime in January.

Meanwhile, Mr. Snowden’s revelations may end up pushing the larger debate all the way to the Supreme Court amid conflicting rulings from federal judges.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA’s bulk-data collection likely is unconstitutional, and in his words, “almost Orwellian.” But just days later, U.S. District Judge William Pauley of New York came to the opposite conclusion, saying the program is a “vital tool” in the fight against terrorism.

When the debate ultimately reaches the Supreme Court, Mr. Snowden will be remembered as the man who thrust the issue into the national spotlight.

Whatever the outcome of that case, lawmakers from both parties believe he eventually must be held personally accountable for revealing sensitive information.

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