Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whose 2013 intelligence leaks revealed the massive extent of the government’s surveillance programs and capabilities, made him a hero in the eyes of many privacy and government-accountability advocates, but a villain to members of the intelligence community and others who believed his disclosures threatened national security.
Snowden is in the spotlight again, thanks in part to Oliver Stone’s recently released biopic about him, and as momentum builds around a campaign urging President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office in January, the House Intelligence Committee is letting it be known where they stand on the guy. Spoiler alert: They’re not huge fans.
In a letter sent to President Obama on Thursday signed by every single member, the committee urged the president not to pardon the man “who perpetrated the largest and most damaging public disclosure of classified information in our nation’s history,” and said that if and when Snowden returns from Russia, where he has been living since 2013, he should be held accountable.
In the unclassified summary findings of a two-year investigation into Snowden’s actions, the committee lays out why it takes such a dim view of Snowden and the actions he carried out. “Some of Snowden’s disclosures exacerbated and accelerated existing trends that diminished the IC’s capabilities to collect against legitimate foreign intelligence targets, while others resulted in the loss of intelligence streams that had saved American lives,” the summary reads. It also accuses Snowden of sharing classified intelligence with the Russian government and making it incidentally available to other adversaries or enemies of the U.S.
The committee rejects the characterization of Snowden as a whistle-blower, arguing, as other intelligence officials have in the past, that “the Committee found no evidence that Snowden took any official effort to express concerns about U.S. intelligence activities — legal, moral, or otherwise — to any oversight officials within the U.S. govemnent, despite numerous avenues for him to do so.” They also dispute Snowden’s insistence that he could not have voiced concerns through official channels without incurring retribution.
The summary goes on to call Snowden “a serial exaggerator and fabricator” whose record “reveals a pattern of intentional lying,” accusing him, among other things, of lying about his education, doctoring his performance evaluations, and exaggerating his role when he worked for the CIA.
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Intercept that the committee wildly overestimated the number of documents Snowden removed from the NSA, calling the figure of 1.5 million given in the summary “nonsensical,” and calling their claim that the documents largely did not concern privacy “bad faith on top of bad faith.”
Snowden himself has responded to the report on Twitter, pushing back forcefully on many of the committee’s claims.
The committee’s report came on the same day that the heads of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International took to the pages of the New York Times to plead the case for Snowden’s pardon, becoming some of the most high-profile figures to do so.
“No one should be prosecuted for exposing human rights violations,” they write. “At the very least, there has to be a genuine opportunity to offer a public interest defense.” Snowden has expressed reluctance to return to the States without a pardon or guarantee of immunity from prosecution, as the Espionage Act of 1917, under which he would be tried, does not permit a public-interest defense.
While not going so far as to call for a pardon, even former attorney general Eric Holder stated this May that Snowden “performed a public service” with his disclosures by starting a necessary national conversation about the government’s domestic surveillance activities. Holder said Snowden should return to the U.S. and face trial, but, “I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate.”