Key Congressional Staffers Who Helped Rein In Surveillance Overreach In The 1970s Ask Obama To Pardon Snowden

from the make-it-so dept

While it seems pretty darn clear that President Obama has no interest in issuing a pardon for Ed Snowden — despite the well-organized campaign in support of such a pardon — more and more people are stepping up to argue why Obama should change his mind on this. The latest is a big one: fifteen members of the Church Committee have sent President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch a memo outlining the reasons why Snowden deserves a pardon.

The Church Committee, of course, was the Senate Committee that investigated excessive surveillance efforts by the CIA, NSA and FBI in the 1970s, and eventually led to a series of sweeping reforms that helped to rein in many of the worst abuses. Of course, after 2001, many of the restrictions were watered down, which gets us to where we are today. It’s also notable, of course, that the Church Committee eventually morphed into the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, better known today as the Senate Intelligence Committee. Yes, if you’re a bit confused, the committee that was created to stop intelligence community surveillance abuses changed over the years into becoming the intelligence community’s biggest defenders, rather than overseers. Today’s Intelligence Committee (minus a few members) seems 100% focused on whining about Snowden. So it’s fairly telling that the members who made up some of the key staff positions on the original committee are now speaking out.

The letter was put together by Frederick Schwartz, who was the Chief Counsel of the Church Committee and William Miller, who was its Staff Director (i.e., these weren’t lowly staffers — these were the guys who ran the show). And they’re pretty damn concerned. The full letter is worth reading, but here’s just a small excerpt:

Without Snowden, it would have been decades, if ever, until Americans learned what intelligence agencies acting in our name had been up to. We know first hand that lack of disclosure can cause just as many, if not more, harms to the nation than disclosure. When intelligence agencies operate in the dark, they often have gone too far in trampling on the legitimate rights of law-abiding Americans and damaging our reputation internationally. We saw this repeated time and time again when serving as staff members for the U.S. Senate Select Committee, known as the Church Committee, that in 1975-76 conducted the most extensive bipartisan investigation of a government?s secret activities ever, in this country or elsewhere.

They also point out the hypocrisy of Obama and his administration ignoring or granting leniency towards others who abused positions of power in the surveillance state, and who did so not to benefit the public, as Snowden did:

Some oppose leniency for Snowden because he violated the law. But many in the national security establishment who committed serious crimes have received little or no punishment. President Obama?s decision to ?look forward, not backward? absolved from liability the officials who designed and implemented the torture and extraordinary rendition programs at the CIA and Defense Department during the George W. Bush Administration. It also meant that those who destroyed evidence of these crimes and misled Congress about illegal torture and surveillance would never face charges.

In addition, the government has also been lenient to high-level officials who made illegal disclosures or destroyed classified information. Examples are cases involving National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and CIA Directors David Petraeus and John Deutch.

CIA Director David Petraeus, who also had been a top general, violated the law and his obligation to protect national security information when he provided his biographer, who was also his close friend, with voluminous notebooks documenting Top Secret military and intelligence operations, as well as sharing classified information with reporters. He also made false statements to the FBI to avoid accountability for his actions. Yet he was allowed to plead guilty to just one misdemeanor for which he received no jail time. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger broke the law when he removed several highly classified documents sought by the 9/11 Commission from the National Archives and then destroyed them. He too was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and received a fine and probation. President Bill Clinton pardoned former CIA Director John Deutch before the Justice Department filed a misdemeanor charge against him for improperly taking hundreds of files containing highly classified information and storing them on an unprotected home computer. In all these cases, recognition of the public service the individuals had provided weighed against strict enforcement of the law, to come to a fair and just result.

There are, of course, differences between these cases and Snowden?s. But the crucial point is that only in Snowden?s case was the motivation behind his illegal activity to benefit America. The three others involved efforts to gain glory or avoid criticism, or simple convenience and simple disregard for the law that put our security at risk. Yet the perpetrators were treated leniently.

The memo goes on to explain why people claiming Snowden should have gone through “the proper channels” don’t know what they’re talking about, by pointing to the examples of those who did follow those channels, only to have their lives ruined with bogus Espionage Act cases. Of course, I’m not sure how that will appeal to Obama, since he supported those cases.

Still, it’s good to see these individuals, who know perhaps better than anyone what happens when you have a surveillance state run amok, explaining to the President why what Snowden did was so important, and why he deserves a pardon.

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Comments on “Key Congressional Staffers Who Helped Rein In Surveillance Overreach In The 1970s Ask Obama To Pardon Snowden”

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23 Comments
I.T. Guy says:

“But the crucial point is that only in Snowden’s case was the motivation behind his illegal activity to benefit America. The three others involved efforts to gain glory or avoid criticism, or simple convenience and simple disregard for the law that put our security at risk. Yet the perpetrators were treated leniently.”

Snowden wasn’t in The Boys Club.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Wasted but worthy effort

Without Snowden, it would have been decades, if ever, until Americans learned what intelligence agencies acting in our name had been up to.

Well yeah, that was kinda the point. Keeping the public in the dark as long as possible, ideally forever, with regards to what the spy agencies were supposedly doing ‘in their name’.

To Obama and others in the government that support the indiscriminate mass surveillance that’s a point against Snowden, not for.

There are, of course, differences between these cases and Snowden’s. But the crucial point is that only in Snowden’s case was the motivation behind his illegal activity to benefit America. The three others involved efforts to gain glory or avoid criticism, or simple convenience and simple disregard for the law that put our security at risk. Yet the perpetrators were treated leniently.*

At the ‘cost’ of exposing the dirty laundry of those in power, making them look bad and forcing them to scramble for excuses and to try and hide and/or ‘legitimize’ their actions.

The glory hounds mentioned broke the laws on classified materials for their own gain, and most importantly in a way that didn’t make the USG in general and it’s spy agencies in particular look bad, so it’s hardly surprising that between that and their connections they got a slap on the wrist while numerous people in the USG bay for Snowden’s head(literally at times).

While I applaud their effort and the fact that they were willing to publicly make their position known like this, they had to have known that between their history(people who are all in favor of mass surveillance aren’t going to look kindly on those with a history of reigning such activity in), and the fact that arguing that without Snowden the public never would have known what was happening isn’t going to have much impact on someone that considers an ignorant public a good thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not entirely wasted.

I don’t know how much public opinion needs to be swayed. The only people I see against Snowden are the ones parroting the same debunked claims the government used to smear him. (He fled to Russia, he’s working for Putin, he gave the information to the Chinese, if he’s innocent then he should come back to face a fair trial, etc).

Those types of people won’t be swayed by this letter if they can’t be swayed by factual information.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Translation Guide

TechDirt needs a Government Speak translation guide to plain English. I’ll start with your “proper channels”.

Go Through Proper Channels
means…
Turn yourself in and go to prison

“Work together” and “Cooperate”
menas…
Do what the government tells you and act like it was your idea.

Golden Key
means…
Back Door

Secure Encryption with a Golden Key
means…
Insecure System with Back Door

Traitor
means…
Whistleblower

Parallel Construction
means…
Conspiracy of prosecutors and law enforcement to commit perjury by lying to the court and the defense about what their evidence actually is.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be well taken care of”
menas…
You’re gonna die

“Shelter in place”
menas…
Stay off the roads so that the rich and powerful people can escape to safety.

Citizens
means…
Slaves to the 1%.

Any others ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Translation Guide

No, but there’s a list of words used by the copyright monopoly:

“Piracy ~ File-Sharing
Hacker ~ Cracker or Script Kiddy
Geo-restrictions ~ Geographical Discrimination
White-Washing ~ Acceptable Racism
Lobbying ~ Political Prostitution
Corporate Partnership ~ Agreed Monopoly
IP Theft ~ Idea Infringement
Cyber Terrorist ~ Anyone In Disagreement
Copyright Enforcer ~ Extortion Specialist

– thisguy1337″

Christenson says:

THE PUBLIC INTEREST

THE PUBLIC INTEREST…
… is the key missing ingredient!
… is missing from most of the political discussion, especially around our president and our news sources
… might be what Techdirt is all about, but the words aren’t commonly found on the website
… is the opposite of the pettiness that Techdirt seems dedicated to exposing

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: THE PUBLIC INTEREST

I think that what TD exposes is hardly petty.

Snodwen gave up his comfortable life to expose wrongdoing. It remains to be seen whether he will die of natural causes. Not pardoning Snowden goes way beyond petty.

Abuses of the DMCA are hardly petty. They are deliberate misuses of a draconian law that cause genuine economic damage.

Similarly are abuses of CFAA by prosecutors, except the damage can be imprisonment or worse.

SOPA and similar efforts to destroy the internet are hardly petty.

I could go on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: THE PUBLIC INTEREST

that is the problem with most people.

they have long forgotten that it is not about public interest.

It’s about the will of the people. I am sick and tired of the people that run around thinking government was created to rule over us and protect us.

this is wrong.

the Government was created for the absolute primary purpose of SECURING OUR LIBERTY above all other things as per the fucking Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution!

Those providing protection, become Masters…
Those receiving protection, become servants and slaves…

Anonymous Coward says:

Let me get this straight

“Yes, if you’re a bit confused, the committee that was created to stop intelligence community surveillance abuses changed over the years into becoming the intelligence community’s biggest defenders, rather than overseers.”

Are you saying that a government agency has become or is promoting exactly what it was created to stop? Like the FCC? the FTC? the FDA?… fuck it that would go on till midnight!

Say it isn’t so….

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