WASHINGTON — After a review of the case of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee agreed that he should not receive a pardon for swiping 1.5 million classified documents.
Snowden, wanted on charges of violating the Espionage Act, has been sheltered in Moscow and spoke by video Monday, arguing that what he did was for the public’s benefit and he should be pardoned and able to return to the United States without arrest.
“Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” Snowden said.
“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed,” he added of his revelations about NSA surveillance. “The Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”
Separately from releasing an extensively researched report on the case, all members of the Intelligence Committee sent a letter to President Obama asking him to not pardon Snowden.
“Mr. Snowden is not a patriot. He is not a whistleblower. He is a criminal,” the Dems and GOPs wrote. “America’s intelligence professionals take Mr. Snowden’s disclosures personally. We share their view that a pardon would severely undermine America’s intelligence institutions and core principles, and would subvert the range of procedures in place to protect whistleblowers.”
The classified 36-page Intelligence Committee report on Snowden, two years in the making, has been made available to members of Congress. The committee, which unanimously adopted the report, released an unclassified four-page summary today.
In June 2013, the summary begins, Snowden “perpetrated the largest and most damaging Public release of classified information in U.S. intelligence history.”
The committee added that its review was “careful not to disturb any criminal investigation or future prosecution of Snowden” and said most of the report s, “must remain classified to avoid causing further harm to national security.”
The Oliver Stone movie Snowden is in theaters starting tomorrow, and the Intelligence Committee said their findings “demonstrate that the public narrative popularized by Snowden and his allies is rife with falsehoods, exaggerations, and crucial omissions, a pattern that began before he stole 1.5 million sensitive documents.”
“First, Snowden caused tremendous damage to national security, and the vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests-they instead pertain to military, defense and intelligence programs of great interest to America’s adversaries,” the summary stresses in boldface. “…Snowden insists he has not shared the full cache of 1.5 million classified documents with anyone; however, in June 2016, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliaments defense and security committee publicly conceded that Snowden ‘did share intelligence’ with his government.”
Still, the summary adds, “the full scope of the damage inflicted by Snowden remains unknown.”
“Out of an abundance of caution,” the Defense Department reviewed all 1.5 million documents Snowden removed. The Intelligence Community, in their separate investigation, “has carried out a damage assessment f or only a small subset of the documents. The Committee is concerned that the IC does not plan to assess the damage of the vast majority of documents Snowden removed.”
“Even by a conservative estimate, the U.S. Government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and will eventually spend billions, to attempt to mitigate the damage Snowden caused. These dollars would have been better spent on combating America’s adversaries in an increasingly dangerous world.”
They argue that Snowden is not a whistleblower, as “the Committee found no evidence that Snowden took any official effort to express concerns about U.S. intelligence activities – legal, moral, or otherwise – to any oversight officials within the U.S. Government, despite numerous avenues for him to do so” and “laws and regulations in effect at the time of Snowden’s actions afforded him protection” for whistleblowing through the appropriate channels.
“The Committee routinely receives disclosures from IC contractors pursuant to the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (ICWPA). If Snowden had been worried about possible retaliation for voicing concerns about NSA activities, he could have made a disclosure to the Committee. He did not. Nor did Snowden remain in the United States to face the legal consequences of his actions, contrary to the tradition of civil disobedience he professes to embrace. Instead, he fled to China and Russia, two countries whose governments place scant value on their citizens’ privacy or civil liberties – and whose intelligence services aggressively collect information on both the United States and their own citizens… he remains a guest of the Kremlin to this day.”
The summary notes that “two weeks before Snowden began mass downloads of classified documents, he was reprimanded after engaging in a workplace spat with NSA managers” and “was repeatedly counseled by his managers regarding his behavior at work.”
“Despite Snowden’s later claim that the March 2013 congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was a ‘breaking point’ for him, these mass downloads predated Director Clapper’s testimony by eight months,” the report adds, calling the contractor “a serial exaggerator and fabricator.”
The committee found that “although it is impossible to reduce the chance of another Snowden to zero, more work can and should be done to improve the security of the people and computer networks that keep America’s most closely held secrets.”
In a statement accompanying the summary, Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called Snowden “a traitor who willfully betrayed his colleagues and his country.”
“He put our servicemembers and the American people at risk after perceived slights by his superiors,” Nunes said. “In light of his long list of exaggerations and outright fabrications detailed in this report, no one should take him at his word. I look forward to his eventual return to the United States, where he will face justice for his damaging crimes.”
Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted that while Snowden “has long portrayed himself as a truth-seeking whistleblower whose actions were designed solely to defend privacy, and whose disclosures did no harm to the country’s security,” the committee review “shows his claims to be self-serving and false, and the damage done to our national security to be profound.”
“The review also shows that the Intelligence Community still has much to do to institutionalize post-Snowden reforms to protect the nation’s sources and methods,” Schiff added.
At the White House today, press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated the administration’s view that Snowden is not a whistleblower.
“And that’s why the policy of the Obama administration is that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the very serious charges that he’s facing,” Earnest said. “He will of course be afforded the rights that are due to every American citizen in our criminal justice system. But we believe that he should return to the United States and face those charges.”
Earnest said he was “not aware” of any conversations between Snowden and the office of the president.