Is Snowden ready to come home?

In an interview with the BBC on Monday, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that he's volunteered to go to prison many times.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
American whistleblower Edward Snowden is seen through a camera viewfinder as he delivers remarks via video link from Moscow to attendees at a discussion regarding an International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers in Manhattan, New York September 24, 2015.

It appears that, for the past two years, Edward Snowden has really just been waiting for the call to come home. Since 2013, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor has sought asylum in Russia, but in an interview with the BBC broadcast Monday, Mr. Snowden suggested that he’s ready, and willing, to reach a deal with the US government.

In 2013, Snowden sparked a worldwide debate when he leaked thousands of documents detailing top secret US government mass surveillance programs. Charged with three felony accounts and violation of the US Espionage Act, Snowden would be tried without a jury and could face at least 30 years in jail or perhaps even a life sentence if he were to return to the United States without a deal, reported the Guardian.  

"The Espionage Act finds anyone guilty who provides any information to the public, regardless of whether it is right or wrong," Snowden told The BBC in an interview, according to CNN. (The BBC broadcast is not available in the US.)

"You aren't even allowed to explain to a jury what your motivations were for revealing this information. It is simply a question of 'did you reveal information?' If yes, you go to prison for the rest of your life."

This, Snowden feels, is unfair and arguably the reason he hasn’t been able to reach a deal with the US government for the past two years. “What I won't do is I won't serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations,” he said.

At least 167,000 Americans think Snowden did do the right thing, though, as voiced by the petition they signed in July calling for Snowden to be pardoned, a request that was reinforced in a letter to editors at The New York Times last week.

“It is time that President Obama pardons Edward Snowden. What Mr. Snowden leaked, he leaked for the benefit of the American people,” Barry Levine wrote. “To prosecute that as an act hostile to the American government is more an indictment of that government than the leaker.”

Snowden’s popularity could fuel the government’s desire to strike a deal. “Further leverage is the embarrassment factor to the US from Snowden’s receipt of prestigious awards and his general popularity, particularly among the young: since starting on Twitter a week ago, he has attracted 1.36 million followers,” wrote the Guardian.

But the government’s sentiments have been mixed and rather unclear.

The White House denied the July pardon request. Snowden should have “accept[ed] the consequences of his actions” if he “felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience,” said Lisa Monaco, the President’s advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism in a statement regarding the decision.

But a month prior, Congress passed a law requiring warrants for obtaining phone metadata from telecommunications companies, part of what former Attorney General Eric Holder called a “necessary debate” regarding bulk collection of phone records, which suggests that Snowden’s actions directly led to change.

While former NSA boss Michael Hayden told the Guardian, “If you’re asking me my opinion, he’s going to die in Moscow. He’s not coming home,” Mr. Holder told Yahoo News that “a possibility exists” for reaching a deal with Snowden.

“I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with,” Holder said, though Melanie Newman, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Snowden would still face charges if he returned to the US.   

Ben Wizer, Snowden’s lawyer, welcomed Holder's recognition, telling  Yahoo News, "This is significant … I don’t think we’ve seen this kind of respect from anybody at a Cabinet level before.”

The beloved and reviled whistleblower” claims he is prepared to face a jail sentence and has even “volunteered to go to prison with the government many times,” but so far, US authorities “said they won't torture me, which is a start, I think, but we haven't gotten much further than that."

“One could easily read the last few months as having brought the two sides closer together on a possible arrangement. But closer and close enough are not the same thing,” wrote the Atlantic.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.