In an interview aired on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday, a National Security Agency official raised the possibility of granting amnesty to Edward Snowden, the former agency contractor who gave classified documents describing the scope of its operations to journalists.

The official, Rick Ledgett, told CBS’s John Miller that he thought that the United States should offer Snowden amnesty in return for a pledge that no more documents would become public. Snowden, who is currently living in temporary asylum in Russia, has been charged with espionage and theft.

“I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high,” Ledgett said of a possible deal.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the agency’s director, said in the same segment that he would be opposed to amnesty. The Justice Department, which would have to mediate and agree to any change in the charges facing Snowden, did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.

The “60 Minutes” report, titled “Inside the NSA,” has been widely criticized for a lack of journalistic rigor. Miller, the correspondent, failed to challenge agency officials on some of the more controversial aspects of the agency’s surveillance.

For example, he allowed Alexander to assert that the “NSA can only target the communications of a U.S. person” with a court order specifically concerning that person. While that is technically true, the NSA does gather a great deal of information on a large number of Americans without specific court orders.

As The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani have explained, this kind of accumulation is “incidental,” which is “a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.”

Other critics argued that Miller’s previous positions at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI created a conflict of interest, and that while Miller did disclose his former work at the beginning of the segment, another correspondent should have been assigned to the story.

Miller will soon leave CBS to work for the New York Police Department, the New York Post reports.

Politico’s Dylan Byers notes that the criticism comes at a difficult time for one of the most respected investigative reporting shows on television:

CBS’s “60 Minutes” has had a terrible year: Lara Logan’s now-retracted Benghazi report was the sort of blackmark that will take the news-magazine years to live down. Charlie Rose’s interview with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, about his drone delivery plans, was panned as fawning and promotional. . . .

The ‘60 Minutes’ website features a supplemental behind-the-story interview with Miller, which asks: “How did ‘60 Minutes’ get cameras into a spy agency?” The answer may be that the NSA saw Miller as the most optimal interviewer for their publicity effort. . . . He is also currently under consideration for a position with the New York Police Department. In other words, he’s an insider, and maybe not the journalist best-positioned to ask the tough questions of the NSA.


For more on the National Security Agency, including its ability to circumvent one protocol that is widely used to encrypt the contents of cellphone communications, continue reading here.

The National Security Agency gathers location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. (Osman Malik/The Washington Post)