Eclipsed by news in Iraq, the most important story in national security news is quietly, slowly unfolding right here at home.
The federal government is talking to Edward Snowden about a possible plea deal.
Negotiations are difficult, but proponents of a deal say we’re better off with Mr. Snowden than without him. For some, a plea bargain is the only way to bring him to justice. For others, it’s the best available means to protect him from life as a fugitive.
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, says that estimate has been revised slightly downward. It also appears that federal officials have become somewhat less concerned about the security risk posed by those documents.
That’s raised rumors that Washington is willing to strike a real bargain with Snowden — if he accepts criminal liability for his actions.
Both the pro- and anti-Snowden case for a deal have their particular merits. Unfortunately for the American people, however, there are serious drawbacks to proceeding with either approach.
Letting Snowden go means letting go about one and a half-million documents — a trove for anyone who decides to capture or otherwise obtain Snowden’s cache. Even worse, leaving Snowden a fugitive will leave him in Russia, one of the places we’d least like him to be.
President Obama, however, just isn’t willing to pardon Snowden. Aside from questions of political principle, it would raise the ire of plenty of Obama’s critics, and some of his supporters.
A pardon would theoretically free up Snowden to exile himself somewhere less damaging to America’s interests. But officials believe that place to be the U.S. itself, not some quiet tropical island. The federal government has a powerful interest in taking custody of Snowden — not as a criminal, but as an asset.
That’s where things get problematic for the prospect of a plea deal. Washington loves hiring hackers. It’s been happening for years. There’s nothing a security state wants more than to monopolize the ability to steal information. One of the greatest benefits of recovering Snowden would be co-opting him once again in the infowars being conducted against America’s enemies and adversaries (and, some would add, allies).
Re-enlisting Snowden in America’s surveillance effort might appeal to the federal government. But for any American troubled by the size and scope of that effort to begin with, there’s something deeply wrong about any deal that uses Snowden to further the invasive practices he revealed to us.
Perversely, that kind of deal would not only embolden hackers, but draw more hackers into the corridors of government power. In that respect, it’s the worst of both worlds.
It’s hard to accept the idea that the status quo is the best option regarding Edward Snowden. But it’s easy to see how dissatisfying the alternatives can be.
— From the Orange County Register