Columns / Discourse / January 15, 2014

Granting Snowden a pardon: A prospect with biting repercussions

On Jan. 1, the New York Times published an editorial calling to grant a presidential pardon to Edward Snowden who is currently residing in Russia after having disclosed classified NSA operations — news that quickly spanned the entire globe. Immediately it triggered a firestorm of criticism, or at least as much of a firestorm as a newspaper editorial is capable of triggering anymore.

There is no sign that President Obama is actually considering taking any such action, but that does not mean that we, as American citizens, should not give the matter some thought.

There are two things all reasonable people should be able to agree on regarding Snowden: he performed a service to the American people and he broke the law.

But was the benefit of his disclosures enough to justify his actions? Should the president welcome the spy in from the cold?

Note that I did not ask whether Snowden deserves a pardon. Granting a pardon to someone undeserving can still be a good idea. Richard Nixon was about as undeserving of clemency as any person you’re likely to find, but Gerald Ford made the right call in sparing the nation from having to put the ex-president on trial.
However, the President should not pardon Edward Snowden, deserving or not.

The key is that his disclosures go far beyond the ones concerning NSA snooping on American citizens. He also revealed all sorts of NSA programs targeted at nations such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, as well as information on the technical capacity of the NSA. Why exactly making details of intelligence operations against our enemies public is a service to the American people is something Snowden has yet to prove.

Essentially, many of his disclosures are nothing more than “the agency whose stated job it is to electronically eavesdrop on foreigners is electronically eavesdropping on foreigners.” Even the spying on our allies should not come as a surprise to anyone. The U.S. has never agreed not to spy on its allies. Nor have they agreed not to spy on us (and it has been revealed the Mexicans, Brazilians and French were all doing so in recent years, despite their public outrage at the NSA).

The domestic spying revelations are something we should be grateful for, but they are only part of a much larger picture.

Granting Snowden a pardon would tell would-be Snowdens that you can release as much classified information as you want as long as at least some of it happens to be in the public interest. It would be a dangerous precedent to establish.

That is why the question “hero or traitor?” is a useless one in this case.

Traitors can have a bit of a hero in them as well. Snowden is a mixture of both. You can admire him for the risk he took in letting Americans know that their government was listening to them, but you cannot forget that he told a great many people a great many other things as well.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

Tags:  domestic spying editorial Gerald Ford intelligence operations New York Times nsa obama Snowden spy

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Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.




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  • manyids2

    Why exactly making details of intelligence operationsagainst our enemies public is a service to the American people is something Snowden has yet to prove.

    Replace ‘American people’ with ‘the world’, you’ll get your answer but you must also replace ‘our enemies’ with ‘us’.



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