Editor’s Note: For another viewpoint, see Point: No, Trump Should Not Pardon Edward Snowden
President Obama should have pardoned Edward Snowden. Now, it is up to President Trump to do what’s just.
It is ultimately the responsibility of the president to ensure that national security whistleblowers have an effective and safe avenue to raise concerns that they reasonably believe evidence violations of law, abuse of authority, specific health and safety dangers, environmental threats, gross waste of funds or gross management.
Edward Snowden clearly had such reasonable beliefs, and therefore should be pardoned not only for his own work but also to set a precedent for the future safety and efficacy of national security whistleblowers.
A year before Snowden’s revelations, Congress was on the verge of ensuring rights and protections that would have covered all intelligence community contractors, such as Snowden, through the passage of a stimulus bill.
Unfortunately, at the 11th hour before adjournment in December 2012, members of the House Intelligence Committee blocked the legislation. They succeeded in stripping the bill of any whistleblower protections for intelligence community contractors, including the weak provisions that already existed in the law.
All intelligence agency employees and contractors regressed from having some protections to none at all.
To Obama’s credit, he did issue an executive order — Presidential Policy Directive 19 — that provided some relief to intelligence agency employees, but he too left contractors, like Snowden, out in the cold.
Following the order, intelligence agencies were not only hostile to the implementation of the directive but actively undermined its realization.
In public statements, Obama and many other public officials falsely claimed that the reforms were operable and would have covered Snowden, yet in practice they were non-existent.
Without an avenue to act legally and safely to reform the National Security Agency, Snowden took the bold action to expose surveillance activity, which our leaders should have exposed themselves and that we as Americans had a right to know.
Snowden paid close attention to the treatment that earlier whistleblowers had endured, such as Thomas Drake and his colleagues. They raised their concerns about a corrupt surveillance program at NSA.
They went to their superiors, to the NSA general counsel, to the Defense Department Inspector General Office, and eventually to both the Senate and the House intelligence committees. The Department of Defense Inspector General Office violated its confidentiality agreement and gave their names to the FBI as “leakers” — a false accusation.
As a result, the FBI sent armed tactical squads to invade their homes. They faced possible criminal prosecution for years. The trauma of those events still haunts them and their families. Furthermore, Drake faced 10 trumped-up felony counts, which could have sent him to prison for life.
Over four years later, on the eve of his espionage trial, the case fell apart and the federal judge who presided excoriated the Department of Justice for its work. In court, he chided the prosecutors and wondered what had happened to the “adult supervision” at the department.
Snowden saw what happened to his predecessor whistleblowers and chose a different way forward: a path that he saw as the only option to expose the wrongdoing that he knew a great deal about, but about which Americans knew nothing.
Had he not done so, we would not have learned of the massive surveillance program that the NSA had launched, which was affecting the privacy of millions of Americans. We certainly would not have known about the NSA’s activities because despite the abuses and overreach of surveillance, the documents were buried under the cloak of classification.
The top intelligence chief of the nation, James Clapper, lied about the very existence of the program while testifying under oath at a Senate hearing.
Eventually the president responded to the public outcry in response to Snowden’s disclosures and ended some of the surveillance abuses. In doing so, he claimed that the reforms were in the works before Snowden’s revelations. There is no evidence that this was true. In fact, Clapper’s lies to Congress suggest the opposite.
Edward Snowden courageously spoke up and exposed what the NSA was doing and how its leaders were lying to the American people. It was the obligation of Congress, the president, and our national security agencies to provide a safe channel for his concerns.
It is time President Trump recognize the failures of previous administrations and pardon this idealistic and patriotic citizen.
Snowden’s truth telling and civil disobedience provided critical information about what our government was doing to us, and supposedly for us, without our knowledge or consent.