Would the U.S. government consider offering amnesty to whistleblower Edward Snowden?
In an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, NSA official Rick Ledgett suggested that, if Snowden assisted in “securing” the data he spirited out of the country earlier this year, the government might have a “conversation” about letting him back into the United States.
“I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured and my bar for those assurances would be very high,” Ledgett told the news program, according to Time. “It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”
But NSA director Keith Alexander countered that idea, suggesting that people need to be held accountable for their actions, and that granting Snowden amnesty might encourage others to abscond with intelligence secrets.
Snowden currently resides in Russia, which granted him a one-year asylum. In June, he began feeding top-secret NSA documents (downloaded while he served as a system administrator at an agency outpost in Hawaii) to The Guardian and other newspapers. Many of those documents suggested that the NSA, tasked with intercepting communications from terrorists and foreign governments, collects massive amounts of information on ordinary Americans.
Those revelations ignited a firestorm of controversy. In response, President Barack Obama announced earlier this month that he plans on reining in the NSA’s surveillance programs, but the extent of those measures remains unclear. “I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA. And… to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence, ” he told television reporter Chris Matthews during a taped interview for MSNBC, according to Politico. But he also acknowledged that, while the NSA is blocked by its charter from engaging in domestic surveillance, the agency is “not constrained by laws” when it comes to operating outside U.S. borders.
Also in December, a report in The Washington Post suggested that the NSA tracks roughly 5 billion mobile phones every day, dumping the location records into a massive database for agency analysts and others to mine for insight. NSA officials told the Post they had no way of knowing how many Americans might have found their data swept up in that massive collection process.
Image: The Guardian