As The Free Thought Project recently reported, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (2016) has yet to be decided. But in 2002, Time nominated “The Whistleblowers” as their pick. That year, the whistleblowers represented certain individuals who'd exposed Enron’s accounting discrepancies of $3.8 billion and led to the energy giant’s bankruptcy. But now, infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, in lieu of being chosen by Time, might simply settle for a presidential pardon by President Obama. He shouldn’t hold his breath. Not only has Obama stated he cannot pardon Snowden, but President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for CIA chief has gone one step further, calling for Snowden to be given the death penalty.
Snowden has exposed one of the nation’s most sensitive secrets, namely the fact the NSA was spying on all Americans and in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine. When Snowden sat down with reporters in Hong Kong, having already fled the U.S., he knew he would be a targeted man, not for what he had done, but for what he was going to do -- tell all he knew.
As a contractor for the NSA and the CIA, Snowden had access to the government’s most sensitive state secrets. On June 3rd, 2013, Snowden told reporters, as recorded in the documentary Citizenfour, “I feel the modern media has a big focus on personalities…I don’t necessarily want that to happen…I’m not the story here,” he said, intimating his desire to focus on the issue of America’s own government allegedly abusing its spying power over its citizens.
He explained his motivation for going public, “So, for me, it all comes down to State power against the people’s ability to meaningfully oppose that power. And I’m sitting there every day to design methods to amplify that State power. And I’m realizing you know that if the policy switches, that are the only things that restrain these states were changed, you couldn’t meaningfully oppose…”
Snowden went on to describe how he’d hoped the Obama administration would curtail some of the power of the State. But, to the contrary, Snowden said the surveillance power of the State was actually “advanced” under Obama. The intelligence operative then explained that being able to watch drone strikes in real-time “really hardened me to action,” and thus he decided it was time to take his concerns public.
In the documentary, Glenn Greenwald questioned Snowden. He asked, “If your self-interest is to live in a world in which there’s maximum privacy, doing something that could put you into prison, in which your privacy is completely destroyed, that is sort of the antithesis of that, how do you reach the point where that was a worthwhile calculation for you?” Snowden rambled on about the joys of the birth of the internet, how the internet was a playground of sorts for folks all over the world, but he then turned his attention to “the list,” referring to the intelligence network’s targeted individual list.
“I’m more willing to risk imprisonment…than I am willing to risk the curtailment of my intellectual freedom,” he said referencing his desire to see folks not be in fear of winding up on a government watch list. “It gives me, I feel good in my human experience to know that I can contribute to the good of others,” he stated answering the question as to why he would risk it all to expose the government’s dirty little secret.
“There’s an infrastructure in place, in the United States, and worldwide, that NSA has built, in cooperation with other governments as well that intersects basically every digital communication, every radio communication, every analog communication, that it has sensors in place to detect. And with these capabilities, basically, the vast majority of human and computer to computer communications…are automatically ingested…and that allows individuals to retroactively search your communications…” he said being the first to reveal to the world that everyone is a potential target and that the government has the power to use that information against them.
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Snowden's interview transformed the Elizabeth City, NC native into a traitor to some and a hero to others. While Snowden himself believes he should be pardoned, others are not so appreciative of Snowden’s contribution to governmental transparency. One such person is President-elect Trump’s choice to run the CIA, Mike Pompeo (R-Kan).
“We’ve had the traitor Edward Snowden, steal that information. He should be brought back from Russia, given due process and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given the death sentence for having put friends of mine, friends of yours, who serve in the military today, at enormous risk, because of the information he stole and then released to foreign powers,” Pompeo told the Washington Journal on C-Span.
The future CIA chief's comments serve as a reminder for Snowden, and others thinking of taking actions such as his, that there’s no hint of mercy for him to be found within the next administration, leaving only President Obama’s power to pardon as his last vestige of hope. But even that possibility is waning as the outgoing Commander-in-Chief said in an interview this week with Spiegel that he doesn’t have the power to pardon Snowden.
I can't pardon somebody who hasn't gone before a court and presented themselves, so that's not something that I would comment on at this point. I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system.
At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I've tried to suggest -- both to the American people, but also to the world -- is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security.
We at The Free Thought Project want to know if the same couldn’t be said of Hillary Clinton? Since Obama has said he can only pardon someone who has presented themselves before a judge, will he pardon Clinton before she goes before the court? We think he will. As Donald Trump stated in one of the presidential debates with Clinton (someone he’d referred to as “crooked Hillary” during the run-up to the election) he intends to appoint a special prosecutor to “look into her situation” and presumably her alleged role in pay to play favors with the Clinton Foundation while she was secretary of state.
Coming to her defense is an old friend of both Trump and Clinton. Jesse Jackson has reportedly called on President Obama to preemptively pardon Clinton. Jackson told attendees at an anti-violence rally, 'It would be a monumental moral mistake to pursue the indictment of Hillary Clinton,” referencing Trump’s stated intention to do so. Later, the Obama administration was asked to speak to the possibility of a preemptive pardon for Clinton. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to address Clinton’s specific case, with respect to a potential pardon, but did say the president had offered clemency to many individuals who were already in prison.
And so it appears as though the Obama administration isn’t ruling out a Clinton pardon, but has indeed ruled out one for Snowden. One very well connected, wealthy civil servant, and wife to a former U.S. president is accused of being negligent with classified information, lying under oath to Congress, and destroying thousands of emails, evidence which had been subpoenaed. The other civil servant revealed his secrets willingly in order to make Americans aware of at least the possibility their government could not be trusted with their rights to privacy.
Do you believe Obama will offer a preemptive pardon to Hillary Clinton? Should he pardon Snowden? Post your comments below.