Edward Snowden on Monday said he should be pardoned, not prosecuted, for leaking government secrets, and he described his decision to disclose national security documents as being “necessary” to affect change to the country’s surveillance programs.
Speaking from Moscow this week, the former National Security Agency contractor called on the White House to consider the role his NSA leaks had in reining in government surveillance and bringing the issue to the forefront of international discussions.
“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,” Mr. Snowden told The Guardian.
“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [U.S.] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result,” he added.
Mr. Snowden, 33, faces felony charges of theft and espionage as a result of sharing classified NSA documents with members of the media in 2013. More than three years later, however, he has managed to avoid prosecution by taking asylum in Russia.
In the interim, investigative reports made possible by Mr. Snowden’s disclosures have spurred surveillance reform in the U.S. and ignited heated discussions on the subject abroad. Specifically, Mr. Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. government’s widespread collection of telephone call records has been directly attributed with the drafting and passage of the U.S.A. Freedom Act last year.
“If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off,” he told the Guardian this week.
According to Mr. Snowden, the White House will eventually see things similarly — even if its not until after President Obama’s administration has come to a close.
“Once the officials, who felt like they had to protect the programs, their positions, their careers, have left government and we start looking at things from a more historical perspective, it will be pretty clear that this war on whistleblowers does not serve the interests of the United States; rather it harms them,” he told The Guardian.
Mr. Snowden’s supporters meanwhile plan on launching an effort of their own this week aimed at getting the White House to issue a presidential pardon. The initiative will be spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other groups, and will involve a “mass signature campaign around the world” and an effort to get “prominent individuals and organizations” to support the cause, Motherboard reported.
“We think the proper response to Edward Snowden shouldn’t be what the punishment should be, it should be how to thank him. And until that’s the case, he is living safely where he is,” Ben Wizner, Mr. Snowden’s American attorney, told Motherboard this week.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to specifically discuss Mr. Snowden’s pardon bid during a media briefing Monday, but said the president maintain the belief that the former contractor’s revelations did in fact harm national security.
“Obviously there is a process that people can go through in requesting a pardon. But right now, Mr. Snowden has not been convicted of crimes with regard to this particular situation, but he is charged with various crimes,” he told reporters Monday.
“It is the view of the administration and certainly the view of the president that he should return to the U.S. and face those charges, even as he enjoys the protection of due process and other rights that are afforded to American citizens who are charged with serious crimes,” Mr. Earnest added.