Is the long, drawn out saga of Edward Snowden heading toward a very unexpected conclusion? There are new reports coming out this weekend claiming that the “tens of thousands” of classified documents that Snowden made off with may actually number more than 1.5 million, and all of them are currently sitting somewhere in Russia. This apparently has some – though not all – of the brass at the NSA thinking that just maybe we need to offer amnesty to the thief just to get him (and more importantly, the intelligence data) back on US soil.
CBS News learned Thursday that the information National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has revealed so far is just a fraction of what he has. In fact, he has so much, some think it is worth giving him amnesty to get it back.
Rick Ledgett is the man who was put in charge of the Snowden leak task force by Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads the NSA. The task force’s job is to prevent another leak like this one from happening again. They’re also trying to figure out how much damage the Snowden leaks have done, and how much damage they could still do.
Snowden, who is believed to still have access to 1.5 million classified documents he has not leaked, has been granted temporary asylum in Moscow, which leaves the U.S. with few options.
Ledgett isn’t coming right out and saying that amnesty is the right move, but he’s willing to say that, “it’s worth having a conversation about.” Given the inflammatory nature of the entire Snowden story and the prospects of letting him walk scott free after what he’s confessed to doing, that’s about as close to an endorsement as you’re likely to see. It’s apparently a balance between the damage already done, the potential damage yet to come, and the backlash against letting him get away with it.
At Business Insider, Michael Kelley sees trouble brewing on the horizon.
All of this points to an nightmare situation for the U.S., and potentially for civilians in other countries.
The man in charge of the Snowden leak task force told CBS that he would be in favor of granting Snowden amnesty if rest of the data could be secured, and a former NSA director suggested the agency leak it all.
Citizens in Russia and China — who already live under oppressive surveillance — may also become victims of the leak if parts of the blueprints of the world’s largest spy apparatus were used against them.
The potential damage goes well beyond spying on citizens (i.e., Snowden’s stated focus): Last month The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials believe Snowden took 30,000 U.S. documents that do “not deal with NSA surveillance but primarily with standard intelligence about other countries’ military capabilities, including weapons systems.”
I don’t believe Kelley is overstating the potential danger and damages, but I do have to wonder if the proposed solution of bringing Snowden back home with the promise of freedom really does anything to ameliorate the threat. It seems as if this sort of deal with the Devil – were we to even consider it – would have needed to have been made while Snowden was still on the plane to Hong Kong. At this point, there are two potential avenues where all or most of the damaging intelligence winds up where we don’t want it.
Do we still really have any clue how much more of the stolen data is sitting with Glenn Greenwald and his buddies? As long as that represents increased traffic for his paper, the material will still be coming out. And possibly far worse, what are the odds at this point that the Russians don’t already have the files? If that’s the case, the damage is done and offering a pass to Snowden doesn’t seem like it really gets us anything in exchange.
Here’s a short video preview of the report coming up on Sunday.