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Editorial: Should Obama pardon NSA leaker Snowden? Nyet

By Chicago Tribune

Over the weekend, the new Oliver Stone movie on National Security Agency leaker-extraordinaire Edward Snowden clunked into theaters and drew tepid crowds.

At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have launched what they bill as a major effort to persuade President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden.

The Snowdenites hope that the fawning movie will spare their hero from espionage charges.

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To gin up some urgency, the pardonsnowden.org website countdown clock is ticking off the days, minutes and seconds until Obama leaves office. The Snowden apologists evidently realize that President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump wouldn’t risk the political backlash if they were to go easy on Snowden.

Our capsule review of this effort: Two thumbs down.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden in a scene from the movie "Snowden" directed by Oliver Stone. (Open Road Films/TNS)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden in a scene from the movie “Snowden” directed by Oliver Stone. (Open Road Films/TNS)

Snowden has suggested that he would like to return to the United States if his lawyers could negotiate a plea deal. Presumably Snowden has grown weary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hospitality and, we’re guessing, the intense scrutiny under which he undoubtedly finds himself.

Snowden says he would consider serving a prison term as part of a plea bargain arranged before he leaves his Russian sanctuary, The New York Times reports. How magnanimous.

As we said in 2014 when Snowden supporters first dangled the issue of amnesty: Come home, Ed. We’ll welcome you with open arms and a pair of handcuffs. We can show you all the damage you caused. And maybe we’ll let a judge and jury decide your fate.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took the right approach in 2014: He rejected amnesty for Snowden but did not rule out the possibility of plea negotiations, if Snowden returns. “If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers,” Holder said.

Two years later, we would support the same deal: No amnesty, no pardon. Snowden should return to the U.S. and face whatever charges the Department of Justice levies. If his lawyers think they can limit those charges in return for his surrender, they’re welcome to try. It’s a free country. (The U.S., that is.)

Snowden’s actions caused immense damage to America’s national security interests. A day before the movie’s release, a House Intelligence Committee report debunked the myth of Snowden The Noble Whistleblower who did more good than harm. “Snowden’s actions did severe damage to U.S. national security, compromising the Intelligence Community’s anti-terror efforts and endangering the security of the American people as well as active-duty U.S. troops,” the committee said.

American intelligence officials still don’t know the full extent of the harm, the report says. Some of the damage may not be known for years. The government has, however, spent hundreds of millions of dollars — and eventually will spend billions — to clean up the mess and “mitigate the damage” Snowden caused.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden and Shailene Woodley as Lindsay Mills in a scene from the movie "Snowden" directed by Oliver Stone. (Open Road Films/TNS)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden and Shailene Woodley as Lindsay Mills in a scene from the movie “Snowden” directed by Oliver Stone. (Open Road Films/TNS)

The 22 House committee members sent a unanimous, bipartisan letter to Obama urging him not to pardon Snowden. Bulletin: Democrats and Republicans agreed.

“Edward Snowden is no hero — he’s a traitor who willfully betrayed his colleagues and his country,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the committee chairman, said in a statement.

Snowden’s argument that he acted to defend Americans’ privacy were “self-serving and false,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the committee. “While those disclosures did spark a useful public debate, the collateral damage has been extraordinary.”

Three years ago, a self-satisfied Snowden declared victory. “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he told The Washington Post. “I already won.”

That victory may not be so sweet any more. Not when the reward is a permanent address under Putin’s thumb.

Snowden stole and released thousands of pages of documents that endangered — likely still endanger — U.S. lives. He exposed secrets whose impact he could not possibly comprehend. That’s what he calls winning.

To us, that doesn’t sound like a whistleblower who should be celebrated. That sounds like someone who should be in a U.S. prison. Come home, Ed. Make your case.

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(c)2016 Chicago Tribune

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