White House Dismisses Petition Asking for Edward Snowden’s Pardon

“Mr. Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it.”

National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
July 28, 2015, 6:25 a.m.

The White House on Tues­day dis­missed a two-years-old pub­lic pe­ti­tion ask­ing for a par­don of former fu­git­ive leak­er Ed­ward Snowden, say­ing in its re­sponse that the former Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency con­tract­or’s dis­clos­ures were “dan­ger­ous” and had “had severe con­sequences for the se­cur­ity of our coun­try.”

The re­sponse to the “We the People” pe­ti­tion, which has ac­crued more than 167,000 sig­na­tures since it began in the days after Snowden’s ini­tial batch of leaks sur­faced in June 2013, re­in­forces the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pub­lic stance that Snowden is de­serving of little le­ni­ency. The White House typ­ic­ally re­sponds to “We the People” pe­ti­tions that earn more than 100,000 sig­na­tures.

“In­stead of con­struct­ively ad­dress­ing these is­sues, Mr. Snowden’s dan­ger­ous de­cision to steal and dis­close clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion had severe con­sequences for the se­cur­ity of our coun­try and the people who work day in and day out to pro­tect it,” Lisa Monaco, the White House home­land se­cur­ity and coun­terter­ror­ism ad­viser, said in the writ­ten re­sponse.

Snowden has earned a cult fol­low­ing among civil-liber­ties ad­voc­ates, who have long ar­gued that his leaks were an act of con­science that should be cel­eb­rated, not con­demned. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion and nearly all law­makers on Cap­it­ol Hill con­tin­ue to in­sist Snowden’s ac­tions were un­law­ful, may have jeop­ard­ized na­tion­al se­cur­ity, and that he could have sought in­tern­al means with­in the NSA to ex­press his griev­ances about the scope of the gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance ap­par­at­us.

“If he felt his ac­tions were con­sist­ent with civil dis­obedi­ence, then he should do what those who have taken is­sue with their own gov­ern­ment do: Chal­lenge it, speak out, en­gage in a con­struct­ive act of protest, and — im­port­antly — ac­cept the con­sequences of his ac­tions,” Monaco said in Tues­day’s re­sponse. “He should come home to the United States and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide be­hind the cov­er of an au­thor­it­ari­an re­gime. Right now, he’s run­ning away from the con­sequences of his ac­tions.”

Earli­er this month, former At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er sug­ges­ted in an in­ter­view with Ya­hoo News that a “pos­sib­il­ity ex­ists” that Snowden could come home and face some sort of re­duced sen­tence. But many politi­cians, es­pe­cially Re­pub­lic­ans, have said Snowden’s ac­tions were treas­on­ous. Don­ald Trump, cur­rently lead­ing the GOP field in pres­id­en­tial polls, once sug­ges­ted the com­puter ana­lyst should be ex­ecuted.

In her re­sponse, Monaco made ref­er­ence to Pres­id­ent Obama’s ef­forts to ex­pand civil liber­ties while main­tain­ing se­cur­ity. Earli­er this year, Obama signed in­to law the USA Free­dom Act, which will ef­fect­ively end the NSA’s bulk col­lec­tion of U.S. call data — the first and most con­tro­ver­sial of the pro­grams ex­posed by Snowden — in fa­vor of a more lim­ited re­gime.

“We live in a dan­ger­ous world,” Monaco said. “We con­tin­ue to face grave se­cur­ity threats like ter­ror­ism, cy­ber­at­tacks, and nuc­le­ar pro­lif­er­a­tion that our in­tel­li­gence com­munity must have all the law­ful tools it needs to ad­dress. The bal­ance between our se­cur­ity and the civil liber­ties that our ideals and our Con­sti­tu­tion re­quire de­serves ro­bust de­bate and those who are will­ing to en­gage in it here at home.”

Snowden cur­rently lives un­der asylum in Mo­scow, where he has been since flee­ing Hong Kong fol­low­ing the first wave of rev­el­a­tions about the NSA’s do­mest­ic and in­ter­na­tion­al sur­veil­lance powers. He faces charges un­der the Es­pi­on­age Act and has in­sisted he would not earn a fair tri­al if he re­turned to the United States — though he has ex­pressed a de­sire to come home at some point.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has brought charges against more people un­der the Es­pi­on­age Act than all pre­vi­ous pres­id­en­cies com­bined.

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