WASHINGTON — The nation’s top intelligence official said Tuesday that he could never agree with a decision to pardon Edward Snowden.
Snowden was an National Security Agency contract employee when he took more than a million documents and leaked them to journalists who revealed massive domestic surveillance programs begun in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The programs collected the telephone metadata records of millions of Americans and examined emails from overseas.
“I could understand what he did, if … what he exposed was limited to domestic surveillance. … But he exposed so much else that had absolutely nothing to do with domestic surveillance, where he has damaged our capability against foreign threats. He has taken away capabilities that were used to protect our troops in Afghanistan,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said. “I don’t think I could concur in offering him a pardon.”
Snowden’s revelations about the agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records set off a fierce debate that pitted civil libertarians concerned about privacy against more hawkish lawmakers fearful about losing tools to combat terrorism. Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans pushed through a reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act last year that ended the program.
Snowden fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, to avoid prosecution. Human rights groups are seeking a presidential pardon, saying he helped his country by revealing secret domestic surveillance programs.
Asked if Snowden could get a negotiated plea agreement in exchange for information, for example, that he might have gleaned from Russian contacts, Clapper simply replied, “No.”
“The more time that goes on, there is actually, in my mind, less and less incentive for any kind of negotiated” plea agreement, Clapper said. “At least as far as the intelligence community is concerned, we’re not in that camp.”