National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a paradox. Hailed as both a hero and a traitor, the former national security contractor broke the law by disclosing to journalists stolen, top-secret, highly classified information on U.S. spying operations.
But he deserves some leniency, writes Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.
"He is not a spy and not a conventional traitor,"according to Cohen. "The old remedies and punishments do not fit. Some sort of deal should be made — reduced jail time in exchange for his cooperation. A deal would be to our advantage. The United States would get back Snowden and retrieve the information he too while as well as his information (apparently it's still not clear what he took) — and he would get back some of his life."
In 2013, Snowden leaked data from classified surveillance programs showing that the U.S. tapped into millions of Americans' cell phone records and harvested millions of emails and instant messages. The U.S. government has come under harsh criticism both nationally and around the world after it was revealed that the government also monitored cell phones of world leaders, including allies in Germany, Brazil, Mexico, China, Britain and Spain.
"Whatever the case, harm was apparently not Snowden's intention," Cohen writes. "He seemed intent only on alerting us to the extent of government eavesdropping. In this sense, Snowden did good.
"Still, the law matters. I assume Snowden broke it, and law, in the end, is what this controversy is all about. Some people say the eavesdropping programs are illegal (the courts, so far, are split), and some say Snowden had an inherent, moral right and obligation to do what he did — the law be damned. But the laws in question are not morally repugnant. They are common-sense ones that recognize the right of the government to have secrets. These are the laws that Snowden probably broke — and he cannot be allowed to have done so with impunity."
Snowden's release of classified material has been characterized as the most significant in U.S. history. The federal courts have been split on the constitutionality of the surveillance programs, which many in Congress had no knowledge of.
Facing charges of espionage and theft of government property, Snowden is living as a fugitive in Russia. Cohen thinks the Obama Administration ought to cut a deal with Snowden, but thus far the administration has been adamant that no such thing will occur.
"The virulence of the reaction strongly suggests that Snowden did more than violate the law,"according to Cohen.
"He embarrassed the government, bringing a blush to officials who knew of the snooping on foreign leaders (Germany's Angela Merkel and others) and those who should have but did not. He revealed as well the breathtaking extent of a program of which Congress was substantially unaware. In effect, Snowden did to the government what the government did to Merkel. That's no reason to throw the book at the guy."
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