Edward Snowden: How much trouble is he in for leaks of NSA snooping?
Prosecutors would certainly pursue mishandling of intelligence and possibly espionage charges that could result in decades of prison time. But the first US challenge is to get Edward Snowden in custody.
The person who leaked classified US documents on sweeping surveillance programs to the press has now leaked his own identity. Edward Snowden, a young computer system professional for a National Security Agency contractor, revealed on Sunday that he provided information on two NSA programs to The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers. He said his motive was to expose the extent of US electronic snooping and that he’s clear-eyed about the consequences to come.Skip to next paragraph
Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.
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“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Snowden told The Guardian in a story published at his request.
Now that he’s gone public, how much trouble is Snowden in? That depends on a number of factors, including how long he can stay in his current location of Hong Kong, and what the US decides to charge him with if he returns home.
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He himself told the Post reporter he worked with that his disclosure of the NSA information “marks my end.” That may be an exaggeration, but the quick answer to the “how much trouble” question starts with “quite a bit,” and then possibly slides up the scale to “tons” and “almost as much as Bradley Manning.”
At trial in the US, prosecutors would certainly pursue mishandling of intelligence and possibly espionage charges that could result in decades of prison time. Each individual document leaked would be considered a separate charge, national security lawyer Mark Zaid told the Associated Press.
Given the number of documents leaked, the Justice Department could probably threaten Snowden with the equivalent of a life sentence, just to start.
Furthermore, prosecutors could pursue a charge of aiding and abetting the enemy, as they have with Bradley Manning, the Army soldier who passed vast amounts of information to WikiLeaks.
The basis for this charge would be that Snowden’s leaks have provided information to terrorists that will allow them to change their behavior and avoid US surveillance.
“Aiding the enemy” is a capital charge. Prosecutors have indicated that they would not seek a death sentence if Manning is convicted, but would ask for life imprisonment.