Intelligence experts urge Obama to end Edward Snowden’s ‘untenable exile’

Intelligence experts urge Obama to end Edward Snowden’s ‘untenable exile’:

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.


Particularly relevant for Snowden’s whistleblower status is his efforts to reveal misconduct within official NSA channels. According to the interview, Snowden aired his misgivings as early as October 2012 with as many as 17 co-workers and superiors, challenging them with the sheer volume of domestic data being collected by the BOUNDLESSINFORMANT program. The challenges went nowhere. Six months later, he began contacting reporters. Contacted for comment, an NSA spokesman told the Post there was no record of the conversations.

The irony that the NSA lacks a record of those conversations is incredibly rich.


One reason for the “stamp and leak” culture is the institutional failure of the intelligence community to find an effective way of allowing people uncomfortable with certain secrets to protest them without leaking to the public. Channels that allow for proper and credible adjudication are essential. David Grannis, the staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says he is not aware of a single instance where a whistleblower from within the community successfully navigated the complex rules set up by agencies to handle complaints. And simply put, the people who work with secrets have little faith in the inspectors general, no matter how independent they are, and have every reason to believe, because they can read newspapers, that their whistleblowing will end their careers if done internally.

* Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady, Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry

The war on terrorism should not be a war on ethics, integrity, technology and the rule of law. Stopping terrorism should not include terrorizing whistleblowers and truth tellers who raise concern when the government cuts corners to electronically surveill, torture and assassinate its own people. And it is not okay for a president to grant himself the power to play prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of anyone on the entire fucking planet.