Of all the controversial people President Trump may be considering pardoning – former NSA spy and indicted traitor – Edward Snowden – should not be one of them. Trump recently surprised a good many supporters, as well as military and intelligence officials, and veterans, with his comments that he was considering pardoning Snowden.
“It seems to be a split decision that many people think that he should be somehow treated differently, and other people think he did very bad things.” Trump said in response to a question at a news conference in New Jersey – reported by Business Insider.
This was especially surprising since Trump has previously stated on numerous occasions that Snowden was “a spy who should be executed”
Snowden infamously betrayed the United States when he stole copies of thousands of highly classified documents from the National security Agency (NSA) where he worked as a mid-level contractor and later fled to Russia. Snowden reportedly held a Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance and had previously worked in a similar contractor role at the CIA.
While many liberals, and some libertarians, praise Snowden as a “whistleblower,” for uncovering unreported domestic surveillance programs, he was no such thing. As The American Spectator correctly explains:
Under U.S. law, when a government employee (or someone such as Snowden) believes the agency to which he is assigned is engaged in illegal behavior, he is provided with legal protection against retaliation if he reports the allegedly illegal actions in one of several ways.
For example, a whistleblower can report the behavior to the agency’s inspector general or to a congressional committee that has jurisdiction over the agency. These options enable the whistleblower to avoid the agency chain of command and go to an independent authority that can both investigate the alleged lawbreaking and protect his job.
Snowden didn’t do any of these things. He simply stole the Top Secret/SCI documents and gave them to WikiLeaks and a journalist who then published a series of stories in the UK’s Guardian newspaper. The New York Times – never shy about publishing U.S. national security secrets – also jumped on the Snowden betrayal bandwagon.
Snowden also went far beyond just exposing classified surveillance programs. Military.com reported in 2018 that Joel Melstad, a spokesman for the U.S. National Counterintelligence Center, said that the center’s classified damage assessment showed that Snowden’s leaks “put U.S. personnel or facilities at risk around the world, damaged intelligence collection efforts, exposed tools used to amass intelligence, destabilized U.S. partnerships abroad and exposed U.S. intelligence operations, capabilities and priorities.”
The American Spectator notes that “Mike Pompeo, when he was CIA director, correctly differentiated WikiLeaks from journalism by saying they acted as an adversarial intelligence agency. WikiLeaks, and American Glenn Greenwald, were Snowden’s partners in crime.”
Snowden has spent the past seven years in Russia and recently requested to extend his stay there another three years.
The damage Snowden has caused to U.S. national security is incalculable, and ongoing. We will probably never know the full extent of the damage – how many enemy spies and terrorists changed their communication methods because of him, or how many American or allied agents may have been compromised.
Trump’s Attorney General, Bill Barr said he was “vehemently” opposed to a Snowden pardon, describing Snowden as “a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people. He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”
President Trump needs to listen to Barr. Pardoning Snowden would be an insult to America’s military and intelligence professionals, and its veterans. If Snowden ever returns to the U.S. he must face trial for his treasonous crimes.