Should good deeds be allowed to go unpunished?

There are many people who think that Edward Snowden did a public service in revealing lying and abuse of power by the National Security Agency, but still think he should be punished for revealing secret information.

snowden.spy.paradoxKevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones, argued the other day that no government can afford to tolerate the workings of its secret espionage organizations being made public.  On the other hand, he wrote, Snowden has revealed a lot of things that are important for the public to know and this information never would have been made public otherwise.

I believe that 30-year-old contractors shouldn’t be the ones who decide which secrets to keep and which ones to reveal. I also believe that, overall, Snowden has been fairly careful about what he’s disclosed and has prompted a valuable public conversation.

So how do you prevent an epidemic of Snowdens while still allowing the salubrious sunlight of the occasional Snowden?  The answer to the former is that intelligence workers need to be afraid of prosecution if they reveal classified documents. I t can’t be a casual act, but a deeply considered one that’s worth going to prison for.  The answer to the latter is that prosecution needs to be judicious.

There’s no question in my mind that Snowden should be prosecuted for what he did.  That’s the price of his actions.  But he shouldn’t be facing a lifetime in a Supermax cell.  The charge against him shouldn’t be espionage, it should be misappropriation of government property or something similar.  Something that’s likely to net him a year or three in a medium-security penitentiary.

via Mother Jones.

This reasoning would make more sense to me if, in fact, the U.S. government did systematically prosecute people who leak classified information.   But in fact classified information is leaked all the time—the latest example being how the U.S. government detected the al Qaeda plot to attack U.S. embassies (assuming that the leaked information was not an attempt to mislead).   Leaking sensitive information that makes the government look good is common and accepted.  Only the leakers who make the government look bad are prosecuted.

snowden.quote_nRobert Zubrin, writing for National Review, had a much better idea:  Offer Edward Snowden immunity from prosecution in return for testimony before a congressional committee.  He reasoned that if Snowden has all this vital secret knowledge, it is better from the standpoint of national security to have him under U.S. jurisdiction than Russian jurisdiction.

There are two important kinds of information that Snowden might reveal.  The first is information of value to America’s adversaries in operations against the United States, its armed forces, and its intelligence agencies.  The second is information of value to Congress and the American public in assessing the NSA’s domestic operations and in taking action, if necessary, to uphold the Constitution and stop NSA malfeasance.

In Moscow, Snowden is well situated to provide the first type of information to our enemies and poorly situated to provide the second to us.  If he were here, on the other hand, he would be well positioned to provide Americans with the second kind of information, and his opportunities to provide our nation’s foreign adversaries with the first kind would be most limited.

So we need to get Snowden back, and the only way to get him back is to set forth terms that induce him to return voluntarily. […]

One must therefore ask the conductors of the chorus chanting “Death to Snowden” why they prefer to have the analyst talking to Russia, Iran, and North Korea rather than to Congress.  Is it because the NSA regards the holders of America’s purse strings as the greater threat?  If so, it would appear that the agency’s leadership has misplaced its priorities.

On the other hand, Snowden may be lying, or grossly exaggerating, in his accusations of deeply subversive anti-constitutional actions by the NSA.  If so, he has done real harm to American freedom by chilling the public with unnecessary fear of a nonexistent panopticon state.  Such falsehoods therefore need to be refuted.

The NSA has issued denials.  Unfortunately, however, because the agency previously lied to Congress and the public about the very existence of the domestic-spying program, those denials have no credibility.  If the NSA is now being truthful, it needs to establish that by taking Snowden on in open confrontation.

via National Review Online.

And maybe after Snowden gets finished testifying to Congress, he should testify to a special prosecutor and a grand jury.  I would think there would be a rich field for investigation just of financial corruption, given the lack of supervision of the vast sums that the secret surveillance agencies handle.

snowden_frontOnly 10 people have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act since it was enacted in 1917.  Seven of these prosecutions have taken place under the Obama administration.   All of them were of whistle-blowers who made the public aware of information that was embarrassing to the government.  Not one was a traitor who provided secret information to a foreign government.

If it were up to me, I would make it a defense in any whistle-blower prosecution to show that (1) the secret information was not vital to national security and (2) the information revealed corruption, lawbreaking, incompetence or abuse of power.

LINKS

On Believing 2 Things at Once About Edward Snowden by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Give Snowden Immunity by Robert Zubrin for National Review Online.

Meet the Seven Men Obama Considers Enemies of the State by Elias Groll for Foreign Policy.

Obama’s abuse of the Espionage Act is modern-day McCarthyism by John Kiriakou, one of the seven prosecuted whistle-blowers.

How the NSA Scours Internet Traffic in the United States, an infographic in the Wall Street Journal based on information provided by Edward Snowden and other un-named sources.

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