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Should the USA give an amnesty to Snowden? Should he take it?

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Should the USA give an amnesty to Snowden? Should he take it?

Alex Helling's picture
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Richard Ledgett has suggested that he would be open to offering an amnesty deal to Snowden. There has been an ongoing debate in the United States about whether Edward Snowden is a whistleblower or a traitor. For many he is a hero for having released a lot of information online about his country’s surveillance; he warned people about a threat to their privacy and helped to hold the intelligence agencies to account. For others he is a traitor for revealing national secrets and outlining how these programs work as this might allow terrorists, or other enemies to find a way around them. So the reaction if Snowden were to be given an amnesty would be diverse to say the least; probably ranging from adulatory to vitriolic.

An amnesty is not likely, but it is a possibility. Richard Ledgett is the person in charge of assessing the damage that the leaks have caused the United States, though is boss General Keith Alexander is much less keen. Ledgett says "So my personal view is, yes it's worth having a conversation about. I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high, would be more than just an assertion on his part." While his boss counters "This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10, and then say, 'if you give me full amnesty, I'll let the other 40 go'. What do you do?" As usual from Alexander a rather inexact analogy given that the things leaked are not quite the same as lives taken, and we don’t know it would have to be a full amnesty. The much better criticism is that it would encourage others to do the same

Apparently the NSA still don’t even know how much Snowden has actually taken so have no idea how much more could be released or how damaging further leaks could potentially be. They do however think that he could have about one and a half million files. Ledgett therefore worries that future leaks could include information on ‘specific targets’ "Those make me nervous because they reveal what we know and what we don't know and they are almost a roadmap for adversaries." And he admits that so far "none of those crucial documents have been leaked". It does however mean that Snowden has quite a lot of cards that the USA would like to get back – or at the very least make sure that they don’t become public or fall into the hands of others, probably the Russians.

Although it is not actually very likely the United States would seem to have little to loose from actually offering some kind of an amnesty deal to Snowden; it makes the state seem reasonable and if Snowden cant fulfil his side of the bargain then things remain at the status quo. If Snowden can make sure there are no more leaks, and ensure that no one else like the Russians have gotten hold of the documents then it means an immense gain for the US.

The chances are however that it won’t happen; not because Snowden would not like to accept, for all we know he might, but because if what he has said previously is true he has no control anymore. Snowden has said in the past that he has already handed all the documents over to Greenwald and other reporters. This is how he is able to say for certain that the information has not got into the hands of the Chinese or the Russian intelligence services. It is then more than likely that Snowden would be unable to fulfil any conditions that might be attached to an amnesty without the cooperation of those he gave the documents too.

The other question is whether Snowden would take an amnesty if he could get it rather than staying indefinitely in Russia. Snowden was clearly willing to sacrifice his former life when he leaked the files. He would obviously be willing to take an amnesty if he already had most of the damaging information out in the open . Or indeed if is motivation is purely about privacy violations and doing ‘good’ then it would make sense to agree to it once he has all those things that he considers to be against the constitution or violating people’s liberties out. At which point an amnesty would be a very attractive offer to allow him to give the really damaging stuff back leaving him able to demonstrate that he has not betrayed his country.

Probably the closest debatabase debate we have – it is about amnesty’s free speech and digital freedoms at least! ‘This House would offer amnesty to bloggers currently prosecuted by their native states’ http://digitalfreedoms.idebate.org/debatabase/debates/law/house-would-offer-amnesty-bloggers-currently-prosecuted-their-native-sta

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-12/16/snowden-asylum

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25399345

http://www.businessinsider.com/amnesty-and-edward-snowden-2013-12

3 years 11 weeks ago
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