In an interview Saturday, the president speculated that Snowden was “not being treated fairly” by his home country. Yet Snowden seems quite comfortable in the warm embrace of Moscow, where he ultimately took up residence after first fleeing to Hong Kong with the stolen U.S. intelligence materials.
Snowden undermined the United States’ international relations, threatened our national security and jeopardized the sources and methods used by our dedicated intelligence professionals. Snowden is entitled, as all Americans are, to a free and fair trial. But such a trial would expose actions that profoundly betrayed his country and led to the criminal espionage case against him. Snowden’s actions were not born out of principles, morals or a commitment to civil liberties. They were illegal, opportunistic and self-serving.
We strongly believe in the oversight and accountability of the intelligence community. But there are right ways and wrong ways to be a whistleblower if someone feels those checks fall short. The 17 agencies within the intelligence community have their own individual whistleblower processes, ethics offices and inspectors general. At any point, Snowden could have sought these out and pursued his grievances. He did not.
Additionally, if Snowden felt he could not go through the internal whistleblower channels, or felt unsatisfied by those internal processes, he had other options.
We know that from experience. In 2013, when Snowden released the material he had stolen, we were the chairman and ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. One of our key roles, along with our counterparts in the Senate, was to ensure continuous oversight of the community’s activities. We strove to maintain an open-door policy for those wishing to raise concerns about the intelligence community’s practices or policies, making sure that there was always an option of last resort.
Indeed, while we led the committee, we did in fact hear complaints from whistleblowers who were unsatisfied with the internal processes of their respective agencies. If Snowden had been truly alarmed by anything he witnessed as a CIA employee or as an NSA contractor, he could have come to us, too.
He did not. In fact, at no point in his short career did Snowden take advantage of any of the proper whistleblower avenues that were available to him. Instead he stole classified data, fled the United States, and ultimately took up residence in Moscow, where an authoritarian regime welcomed him with open arms, and continues to do so.
Moreover, Snowden stole far more documents than those he claims alarmed him or prompted his dramatic response. He cherry-picked which documents to leak in a self-serving effort to craft a false narrative of patriotism and civil libertarianism. And in releasing documents without any context or background, he caused irrevocable harm to the United States’ relationships with its allies and future intelligence-collection capabilities.
As leaders of the House Intelligence Committee — privy to our country’s most sensitive intelligence information — we saw that damage firsthand.
Snowden often portrays himself as a martyr or a hero, especially in the self-aggrandizing public lectures for which he has made $1.2 million in speaking fees so far. He is not the man of principle he wishes the world to see. His self-mythologizing is a disservice to the true patriots who, every day, step into the line of fire to defend our democracy and ensure our security. Snowden is a fugitive from justice and a useful pawn for Moscow’s agenda, and nothing more.
Trump’s apparent willingness to pardon the man who committed the largest and most damaging leak of classified information in U.S. history is one of the strangest things we’ve heard in a very strange year. Snowden does not under any circumstances — now or in the future — deserve a pardon.
He should return to the United States, but to face a criminal trial.