Modern field guide to security and privacy

Snowden hopes to use movie spotlight to win presidential pardon

Rights groups launched a petition campaign asking President Obama to pardon the ex-National Security Agency contractor, portraying him as a hero who ushered in surveillance reforms. But can they win over a skeptical White House? 

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Edward Snowden speaks via video link during a news conference in New York City.

On the week the Hollywood version of the Edward Snowden story opens in theaters, the real life former National Security Agency contractor and his supporters hope the spotlight helps their cause.

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with other rights groups, a cadre of celebrities, notable writers, and digital rights activists, are backing an effort seeking a presidential pardon for Mr. Snowden, who faces a possible 30-year prison sentence if convicted under the Espionage Act for exposing details on top secret US surveillance programs.

In a petition campaign launched Wednesday, supporters of the "Pardon Snowden" campaign are seeking to portray Mr. Snowden as a "whistleblower who acted on the conviction that the public had a right and need to know about a global mass surveillance system that exceeded the limits of the Constitution."

But while many people hail Snowden as a hero for exposing the scope of National Security Agency surveillance around the world, helping usher in surveillance reform in Washington, his backers may have an uphill battle convincing President Obama that he deserves a reprieve from prosecution.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday Mr. Obama continues to believe Snowden "damaged the United States" and said the NSA leaker should return home to face trial, where he will be "treated fairly and consistently with the law."

Responding to a similar petition signed by more than 160,000 people last year, Lisa Monaco, the president’s advisor on counterterrorism and homeland security, said Snowden's "dangerous" actions had "severe consequences" for US national security.

The American public appears to be split when it comes to assessing Snowden's actions. A June 2013 Gallup poll found 44 percent of US adults approved of his actions, while 42 percent said he was wrong. A 2015 ACLU poll found 64 percent of Americans who were familiar with Snowden held a negative view of him, while 36 held a positive opinion. In that poll, only 8 percent of respondents held a "very positive" opinion.

But in the three years since Snowden's first NSA leaks, which sparked a global discussion about digital privacy and security issues, supporters feel that the tide has turned in support of his actions, so much so that Obama may clear him of criminal charges.

"We do think there’s a chance," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, adding that Snowden’s revelations have had an international impact. "We believe this is precisely the right time for President Obama to act."

At a press conference Wednesday announcing the petition, Snowden appeared via videoconference from Russia where he currently living in exile and said he was "deeply appreciative" and "moved beyond words" at the support for his case.

"This isn't just about me," Snowden said. "Whistleblowers are another check on abuses of power. We must ensure whistleblowers can act again."

To be sure, however, the characterization of Snowden as a brave whistleblower who took personal risks to expose overreaching American surveillance programs is rejected by many prominent voices in Washington and in the military. 

US intelligence chief James Clapper described the Snowden leak as "the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence in our history."

And because of the scope of the disclosures, Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, doubted Obama would grant a pardon. "It sounds like they're banking on the idea the president is a significant Snowden fan, and I’ve seen no evidence that’s the case," Mr. Baker said.

"Only 1 kilobyte of the 1 gigabyte of data he's released has started a debate," he said. "The rest is serving the interest of the Russians and Chinese, and President Obama knows that."

Still, said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who heads up Snowden's legal team, the best way to bring his client home is by using public pressure on the White House. "We need to find the political will."


You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Snowden hopes to use movie spotlight to win presidential pardon
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today