Fifteen former staff members of the Church committee, the 1970s congressional investigation into illegal activity by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have written jointly to Obama calling on him to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody”. Over eight pages of tightly worded argument, they remind the president of the positive debate that Snowden’s disclosures sparked – prompting one of the few examples of truly bipartisan legislative change in recent years.
They also remind Obama of the long record of leniency that has been shown by his own and previous administrations towards those who have broken secrecy laws. They even recall how their own Church committee revealed that six US presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, were guilty of abusing secret powers.
“There is no question that Snowden broke the law. But previous cases in which others violated the same law suggest leniency. And most importantly, Snowden’s actions were not for personal benefit, but were intended to spur reform. And they did so,” the signatories write.
While anything is possible, I have pretty strong doubts that a pardon is coming from Obama. His Whitehouse has aggressively expanded the prosecution of whistleblowers and I’ve never, once, gotten the feeling that Obama was genuinely receptive to Snowden’s actions.
In many ways, several years of US foreign policy has been disrupted — and continues, to this date, to be disrupted — by Snowden’s actions. Given that this has an impact on Obama’s daily briefings and the capabilities of US foreign diplomats I can’t imagine that Obama is likely to pardon Snowden. In fact, I suspect that Obama would argue that if had Snowden just revealed domestic surveillance activities then a pardon might be forthcoming: it’s the revelation of foreign activities that presumably prompt an executive body to assert that harm had in fact occurred based on ability to directly influence world affairs.