Edward Snowden is a whistle-blower who has done his country a "great service," and the Obama administration should stop vilifying him and instead offer him a plea bargain or some form of clemency to allow him to return home on charges short of treason, The New York Times says
"Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service," the paper said in an editorial Thursday.
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The former contractor for the National Security Agency, who is now living in exile in Russia, is currently charged with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and a charge of theft of government property.
The paper points out, however, that Snowden revealed a litany of government abuses and illegal activity beyond the mass collection of phone and Internet data, among them breaking federal privacy laws thousands of times a year, tapping into major communications hubs around the world, and undermining basic encryption systems of the Internet.
The paper contends that the revelations exposed how the agency grossly exceeded its mandate and abused its authority. As proof, it says, two federal judges have since accused the NSA of violating the Constitution, and a panel appointed by President Barack Obama criticized the agency for its invasions of privacy, calling for a significant overhaul of its operations.
"It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community," the paper said.
The paper notes that Snowden had reported his misgivings to two superiors, and despite President Barack Obama's claim that he had issued an executive order to protect whistle-blowers, that protection only applied to intelligence employees, not contractors. Meanwhile, there is no evidence to support claims that Snowden's disclosures hurt the nation's security.
"When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That's why Rick Ledgett, who leads the NSA's task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News
that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it's why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden's vilification and give him an incentive to return home," the paper concludes.
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