Former CIA Director James Woolsey had harsh words on Tuesday for anyone thinking about giving Edward Snowden amnesty.
“I think giving him amnesty is idiotic,” Woolsey said. “He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead.”
Why should Edward Snowden be given amnesty? The question keeps coming up, though it can be hard to hear the answers amid the outbursts it provokes. That is a shame, because there are really two separate cases for why Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who passed a huge stash of secret documents to reporters, should be allowed to come back to America from Russia, where he has been since the summer, without facing time in jail. The first might be summed up as the good he has done for America; the second as the benefits he can still offer the government. A problem is that those who support one case may be put off, or even enraged, by the other. But, between them, they ought to be enough to get Snowden home safely.
First, those on the government side have to calm down, and also have to be truthful about what their interest in prosecuting Snowden — who has already been charged under the Espionage Act — or not might be. On Sunday, “60 Minutes” broadcast an interview in which Rick Ledgett, the N.S.A. official leading the task forces doing a damage assessment of Snowden’s leaks, said that “my personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation” about amnesty. As for why, when he had just gone on at some length about how much harm Snowden had done, Ledgett suggested that it would be worth it if Snowden could stop any more secrets from coming out: “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high.”
That explanation is either dishonest or deluded. Snowden has said that he doesn’t have “the data” anymore; whether or not the government believes that, and even if there is also some insurance file in the cloud, it is well established that a number of journalists do have the data. Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, has testified before a parliamentary committee that the paper has published only one per cent of what it has. And, as Rusbridger tried to explain when some officials from British intelligence came to the newspaper’s office to oversee the smashing up of various drives and other computer components, there are a number of copies, including in the Guardian’s American bureau. [Continue reading…]