Exiled leaker Edward Snowden, who has been living in Russia since 2013, told CBS’s “This Morning” on Monday that he’d like to return home to the United States — but only if he can be guaranteed a fair trial.
Snowden leaked national security secrets to media back in 2013, including information about a massive NSA intelligence program that collected and analyzed metadata — mostly information from call logs — from millions of American cell phones. The warrantless wiretapping program, Snowden revealed, was part of a massive anti-terrorist effort, and the information was being stored indefinitely, ostensibly for use in detecting terrorist plots.
The NSA and other intelligence-gathering bodies have since admitted to the warrantless wiretapping program, and after an internal audit found that the metadata collection strategy resulted in millions of extraneous files, making scanning and analyzing for actual terrorist threats unwieldy, are reportedly considering tabling the program (the Trump administration, so far, isn’t on board).
Before emailing information about the metadata collection program to journalist Glenn Greenwald and others, Snowden departed the United States for Hong Kong, so that he was beyond the reach of federal law enforcement. From there, Snowden fled to Russia, where he was granted asylum until 2017. A request for extended protection was approved several years ago, and Snowden is “safe” to remain in Russia until at least 2020.
If he were to return, he would likely face charges of espionage and mishandling of top secret material, but he’s willing, he says, to face those charges if he can be guaranteed a fair trial.
“One of the big topics in Europe right now is should Germany and France invite me in to get asylum … And of course I would like to return to the United States. That is the ultimate goal,” Snowden told CBS “This Morning” hosts. “But if I’m going to spend the rest of my life in prison, the one bottom-line demand that we all have to agree to is that at least I get a fair trial. And that’s the one thing the government has refused to guarantee because they won’t provide access to what’s called a public interest defense.”
A “public interest defense” is a defense available only to those who leak classified information. If Snowden employed it, he would, essentially, be arguing that leaking information about the NSA’s metadata collection program was justified because disclosure was in the “public interest,” and the benefits of disclosure outweighed the overall threat to national security.
“I’m not asking for a parade,” Snowden added. “I’m not asking for a pardon. I’m not asking for a pass. What I’m asking for is a fair trial. And this is the bottom-line that any American should require.”
Snowden has spoken about returning to the United States before. At the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, Snowden was reportedly hoping that the outgoing leader would grant him some form of clemency similar to what his administration offered to convicted leaker Chelsea Manning. Snowden wasn’t as lucky as Manning and his request fell on deaf ears — potentially because Snowden’s leak exposed a project of Obama’s intelligence infrastructure and not President George W. Bush’s.
Right now, Snowden remains in Russia. His memoir, “Permanent Record,” will be published in September.