Why It Might Be In The US's Best Interests To Grant Ed Snowden Full Immunity From Prosecution

from the not-exactly-win-win,-but-close dept

The administration wants Snowden back badly enough that it has let this singular aspect cloud its judgement. Obama recently stated he won’t be meeting with Putin, stating Russia’s harboring of Snowden as a factor (rather than Russia’s multiple issues with human rights). Rather than engage in the debate Obama claimed he “welcomed,” the administration is circling the wagons, as evidenced in the petty statement it issued in reference to Rep. Justin Amash’s NSA-defunding amendment. Don’t govern angry, as they say.

There are plenty of people who believe Snowden is a hero. Many others believe the opposite. The problem is the middle ground is pretty much nonexistent. Allowing Snowden to go free would appease the former, but allow him to continue exposing the NSA’s surveillance programs. Locking him up wouldn’t do much either, other than allow the government to avenge its embarrassment. It won’t stop the leaks, however, at least not if Snowden’s “dead man’s switch” works as intended. The Guardian is already in possession of thousands of documents. Capturing Snowden will only hasten their release.

Over at the National Review (of all places), Robert Zubrin has a suggestion that might satisfy many on both sides of the issue. (H/T to Reason.)

The United States should give former NSA contractor Edward Snowden immunity from prosecution in exchange for congressional testimony.

It’s an interesting angle. Although Zubrin declares that Snowden “certainly violated the law and may have committed treason,” there’s something to his suggestion. It’s certainly preferable to what the US is currently offering Snowden: indefinite detention preceding a trial, which will then most likely be followed by even more detention.

It may not completely satisfy those who wish to see him punished, but it has to be a better scenario than letting him reside in Russia indefinitely, a country whose motives are rarely pure. On top of that, the US can’t be holding out much hope the Russians will just decide to turn him over, and the administration simply doesn’t have anything to use as leverage.

Pleading, whining, screaming, or demanding that Russia extradite him is simply absurd. Russia never has extradited any defector, and never will, because if it ever did, that would be the last defector it would ever get.

So, as Zubrin points out, exchanging immunity for thorough questioning seems like the best scenario for the US. If nothing else, it will serve to cut through the defensive rhetoric the NSA has deployed and, if Snowden’s portrayal of what’s happening isn’t entirely accurate, that will be exposed as well.

Snowden and NSA leaders should be brought together face-to-face for questioning in public by a congressional investigatory committee, with both parties allowed to make their points and to counter the assertions of the other. If Snowden is lying, it will come out. If the NSA is lying, it will come out. If either refuses to appear, that party will be discredited.

Now, while the idea has its merits and would allow Snowden to return to America without facing a lengthy prison sentence, it’s not without its potential drawbacks. (And this is assuming the administration would ever agree to this compromise, which is highly doubtful.)

First off, if the administration would offer this compromise, there is no question that it would demand an immediate halt to the leaks. This works in the government’s favor, by both preventing any further exposure of the NSA’s programs, as well as limiting discussion to what’s been leaked previously — much of which has already been discussed somewhat openly (if rather opaquely and “least untruthfully”). Using this as the baseline, the government could easily steer the discussion to well-traveled areas, allowing it to keep other malfeasance under wraps.

Second, this discussion will be going on behind closed doors. Access to the Manning trial was strictly controlled. It took a huge amount of effort just to get a transcriptionist into the press gallery. The access here would be even more limited thanks to the subject matter, which will be designated as “classified,” even if the subject matter is all over the internet. So, the chances of the public receiving any benefit or new knowledge is rather low.

Finally, this scenario, despite being more balanced than the government’s current offering, still favors those who wish to see Snowden prevented from leaking any more documents (or at least, giving the go-ahead from Russia — the documents are already “leaked”). This would halt any further “damage” and put Snowden in a “his word against theirs” situation that can easily be spun by representatives of the intelligence community.

The government has the luxury, thanks to the programs being classified, of not having to prove any of Snowden’s testimony conclusively false. All it has to do is magnify every misstep by Snowden and make loud noises about “exceptionally grave damage to national security” when it’s the NSA’s turn to answer his allegations.

Ultimately though, all of this discussion ignores the fact that there’s a human being in the center of all of this, one that may be willing to make concessions in order to return to his homeland, or go the other way and refuse similar deals on principle. Whatever is most advantageous for both sides of the debate will likely rarely align with what Snowden feels is best for him. Still, the possibility of taking on his former employer and STILL being able to walk free might be very tempting.

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Comments on “Why It Might Be In The US's Best Interests To Grant Ed Snowden Full Immunity From Prosecution”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The biggest stumbling block of all?

I agree and I am surprised Tim has not even mentioned such an obvious possibility in the post. The USG could come up with a deal to let him free after some testimony/discussion/questioning/hearing and as soon as he comes to the U.S. they find a way to twist things and change their mind and jail him in the interests of national security. It certainly would not be beyond them to do some nonsense like that. Believing anything the USG says is simply foolish.

ECA (profile) says:


Its hit me as a funny subject..
That all these CRACKS in security, are probably very basic HOLES in windows.
I wonder if the BASIC consumer has better protection then our OWN GOVERNMENT.

How many people here, Dont run Anti virus(2-3 of them), Script protections, Ad-blockers, and then add PGP(and others) to protect your systems?

I Block and WONT READ, emails that are not read in TXT format. there is not reason to read the other format.
How many people CLICK on links/attachments in EMAIL.. NEVER EVER DO IT..
I warn friends to send 1 email BEFORE you send pictures/data TELLING me you are sending it. otherwise it WONT be opened. virus dont tell you beforehand that they are coming.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Forget the principals

“Ultimately though, all of this discussion ignores the fact that there’s a human being in the center of all of this, one that may be willing to make concessions in order to return to his homeland, or go the other way and refuse similar deals on principle.”

What single incentive does Snowden have to return here, even if granted immunity? Based on what he’s said he believes about this country, why would he want to return here to a life of constantly looking over his shoulder and being nervous every time he starts his car or orders fast food?

I mean, I’m guessing the Russians are going to treat him like a king….

[citation needed or GTFO] says:

Re: Forget the principals

What single incentive does Snowden have to return here, even if granted immunity?

If he actually loved his long-time girlfriend (or vice versa), they’d find some way to get back together, even if she had to move to wherever he hides out.

Of course, that would be the emotional response, not to be confused with the survival and most logical response.

Beech says:

Re: Forget the principals

Aside from that, Snowden knew what he was getting himself into when he kicked this whole thing off. I’m sure he wasnt counting on ever being stateside again, so this is probably not much of an incentive. The guy risks his life to tell the American people the crap their government is up to, do we really think he’s going to give up after just a couple releases?

out_of_the_blue says:

IF Snowden's alleged "dead man's switch" was even thought real,

he’d be DEAD by now: too many nations WISH for the US to be greatly harmed, and when SO easy to accomplish — IF the means were real — then it’s certain as sunrise.

The only reasoned conclusion remains that Snowden is a limited hangout psyop, that they wanted the extent of spying known — and accepted so as to extend its effect. No foreseeable harm will be done NSA; in fact, its influence over everyone will be even more effective. We’re just in the late stages of tyranny where the mailed fist is intentionally fluorished.

The end stage isn’t yet clear, but could definitely include some form of “rehabilitating” Snowden to preserve the illusion of a resistance and reform — still while actually opposite reality.

And I’m not saying this supposed “leak” isn’t or can’t be useful IF doesn’t work out way intended, but so far, no sign of that: all is going way I think NSA wants. And again, what has Snowden actually revealed that astute observers didn’t know years before? — Sure it’s useful for him to confirm that NSA has “direct access” to Google’s servers…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: IF Snowden's alleged "dead man's switch" was even thought real,

IF Snowden’s alleged “dead man’s switch” was even thought real,he’d be DEAD by now: too many nations WISH for the US to be greatly harmed, and when SO easy to accomplish — IF the means were real — then it’s certain as sunrise.

I’m not so sure. What if those other nations are also implicated by what Snowden still has up his sleeve. We’ve only gotten hints of how the NSA cooperates with other nations’ spy orgs (including Russia’s).

Paul says:

If I was Snowden....

I wouldn’t trust the current US Officials, period. Historically they have lied or used “Double Speak” to hide the truth at every chance possible.

This said it all:
“If Snowden is lying, it will come out. If the NSA is lying, it will come out. If either refuses to appear, that party will be discredited.”

Why would they ever allow the truth to be told?? The little pieces we already know show there is enough evidence to criminally charge a huge portion of our elected and appointed officials. As corrupt as they are, with the public knowing the entire truth, they would assuredly all be found guilty and end up residing in a Federal Prison. “Entitled” as they think they are, they will not allow that to happen to themselves.

Not to change the subject, but, have you seen the movie “Assault on Wall Street”? It’s not that I recommend or condone violence, but, the “Hero” in that movie came up with an interesting solution to his problem….

Anonymous Coward says:

I think Snowden would be assassinated if he came back. Of course, the USG will say they didn’t do it, just like John F. Kennedy…

I hope Snowden ordered Rosetta Stone lessons, and is making progress learning the keys on Russian keyboards.

I hope I don’t sound like a dick, but I’m sure someone is just itching to make an example out of him. Like Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning.

Maybe I’m wrong, but my gut is telling me that Snowden is probably safer in Russia.

wolfy says:

IF Snowden's alleged "dead man's switch" was even thought real

The FSB had him on their radar early on. That’s why they took him off the plane first. They are not going to let anything happen to Mr. Snowden that they don’t intend to have happen. Think penetrating the FBI and taking out one of their assets, and you’ll see why your example isn’t quite true.

Angry Webmaster (profile) says:

No treason here

Snowden broke the law, yes. Treason? Try reading the Constitution. Treason is defined there and Snowden didn’t reach that level.

Manning was closer to that crime and that wasn’t one of the charges. (I’ve made my feeling known on manning in other posts and I was not kind)

The only one who could have been charged since 9/11 that I know of would have been Johnny Walker Lindh.

Snowden should be tried. Convicted? That’s another story all together and this might be a case for Jury Nullification.

Anonymous Coward says:

apart from the chance of this happening being almost zero, who would trust the government to not prosecute Snowden, jail him anyway or even have him eliminated? as has been said before, regardless of whatever the government doesn’t have, what it does have is a lot of men with big guns! given the screw ups they have made against their own people, the government will resort to who knows what to get it’s ‘pound of flesh’!!

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