By Jeff Mewhinney | Contributor
I would like to start with an admission of humanity. This article contains many different discussions and arguments I believe are critical to understanding the issue at hand, but I simply do not have the capability or knowledge base to explore them all adequately. What follows are my thoughts and, surprise, my opinions.
Edward Snowden released files dictating the usage of NSA surveillance on United States citizens. Most people know that much about him, and if you didn't before, you do now. But some difficult issues arise when considering what he released.
Snowden released thousands of classified files to the New York Times and The Guardian. While it is true some of those files led to the discovery of illegal actions by the government, that is not the whole story. Many of the files contained information about CIA field operatives and other sensitive information pertaining to defense operations. The journalists released almost all of this information, resulting in the endangerment and extraction of several field agents. It also became apparent that the NSA was intercepting various forms of communication inside of Iran and China, as well as between Taliban forces. These streams of information have now been cut off, putting the United States at a disadvantage politically and strategically. Years of legal and sanctioned national security work designed to prevent terrorism and strengthen America's strategic position was undone in the matter of days.
I will not claim that the leak did not have positive effects. An investigation of the NSA led to necessary reforms. Snowden's actions stopped illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens. That was quite the victory (insert high five). The problem is that his actions were irresponsible. Snowden knew the information he had contained more than just NSA domestic surveillance files but chose to let them out anyway.
While it may seem easy to trumpet Snowden as a "whistle-blower," choosing that lens is not accepting the fullness of reality. What he did was, in fact, espionage (the leaking of classified information to sources outside the government's list of approved recipients). If all he had done was release the information about domestic surveillance, it would be much easier to accept a plea for a pardon-but that is not the world we live in. Legally speaking, it's much easier to grant immunity for an illegal act specifically aimed at exposing another illegal act. The U.S. frequently does this with undercover officers frequently.
However, granting full immunity for a series of illegal acts that happened to uncover another illegal act is not so simple. So, even if we were to take the stance that Snowden should be pardoned of leaking information about an illegal government program, he is still answerable for several hundred charges of espionage (because of the extraneous information that was released) and several charges of treason.
Another issue, and perhaps the main one at hand, is why the uncovering of illegal government activity does not justify Snowden's wrongdoing in releasing other information. In response to this, think back to my earlier point about irresponsibility. Snowden, as an NSA contractor, knew that he was handling sensitive information with a wide range of potential subjects. It is reasonable to assume that he knew the files contained more than just the domestic surveillance information.
In this I find Snowden guilty of purposely spreading sensitive information about American defense initiatives. This guilt supersedes the idea that his information lead to good reform.
In short: Yes, Snowden's actions exposed serious cases of government overreach. Yes, the NSA was doing explicitly illegal things. But no, Edward Snowden should not receive a pardon. His actions concerned more than just the NSA's breach of privacy and caused serious damage on a global scale. He should be tried based on all of the information, not just some. His choice to leak the documents was made in the full knowledge that he was breaking both his own oath to protect classified information and federal laws.
Snowden chose to become a criminal the moment he clicked send, and he should be treated as such.