Edward Snowden leaks: NSA 'debates' amnesty

In this file photo dated 26 October 2013 shows demonstrators hold placards supporting former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden during a protest against government surveillance in Washington DC Whistleblower or traitor? Edward Snowden's leaks have divided the US

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A top NSA official has raised the possibility of an amnesty for fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden if he agrees to stop leaking documents.

The man in charge of assessing the leaks' damage, Richard Ledgett, said he could be open to an amnesty deal.

Disclosures by the former intelligence worker have revealed the extent of the NSA's spying activity.

But NSA Director Gen Keith Alexander has dismissed the idea.

Mr Ledgett spoke to US television channel CBS about the possibility of an amnesty deal: "So my personal view is, yes it's worth having a conversation about.

"I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high, would be more than just an assertion on his part."

An amnesty for Edward Snowden is an intriguing prospect. But don't hold your breath. Richard Ledgett's boss, General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, poured very cold water on the idea when he spoke to CBS News.

And much of Congress, which gave every indication of wanting to see Mr Snowden torn limb from limb when the leaks started, would be apoplectic; it would be an unimaginably hard-sell politically.

But the talk of an amnesty is an indication of the NSA's deepest fears: that Mr Snowden really has got what Rick Ledgett called "the keys to the kingdom", and is prepared to make it public.

Authoritative reports suggest that the agency is finding it very difficult to work out what Mr Snowden did and didn't take. Talk of an amnesty from the agency suggests it is deeply concerned about what comes next from Edward Snowden.

But Gen Alexander, who is retiring early next year, rejected the idea of any amnesty for Mr Snowden.

"This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10, and then say, 'if you give me full amnesty, I'll let the other 40 go'. What do you do?"

In an earlier interview with the Reuters news agency, Mr Ledgett said he was deeply worried about highly classified documents not yet public that are among the 1.7 million files Mr Snowden is believed to have accessed.

Mr Snowden's disclosures have been "cataclysmic" for the agency, Mr Ledgett told Reuters.

Earlier this month, a UK newspaper editor told UK MPs only 1% of files leaked by Mr Snowden had been published by the newspaper.

The state department says its position has not changed and that Mr Snowden must return to the US to face charges, says the BBC's Suzanne Kianpour.

The US has charged Mr Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

Each of the charges carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

At the weekend, the NSA allowed a CBS television crew into their headquarters for the first time in its history, in an effort to be more open about what the agency does with the data it collects.

File picture of the NSA headquarters The NSA has been making efforts to be seen as more transparent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    People suggesting that Snowden is a traitor and deserves to be locked up?
    You people have just been brainwashed by governments into believing everything they say. If you witnessed a crime wouldn't you speak up about it?
    The entire system needed a shakeup and what Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning did was exactly what needed to be done.

    The State is not in charge. The people are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    It's important to realise that Snowden no longer controls any of these documents. He handed them over to Greenwald, who promptly quit his job and started in earnest to monitize them with his own "news organisation". Snowden can't stop the dissemination, I'm afraid. I expect Greenwald would sell the documents back to the US if the price was right - he doesn't give a hoot what happens to Snowden.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    I am a US citizen and I have to be honest: When I first heard about Snowden I thought he was a traitor. However, given some of the revelations arising from his leaks, it seems to me that the NSA was acting in an immoral and possibly even criminal way. Now I think Snowden should be called before the US Congressional intelligence oversight committees and given immunity for his testimony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Amnesty deal ! He should be awarded the Congressional Medal for reminding US citizens what the Constitution was written for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    It's strange how some posters don't seem to take on board the sheer enormity and scope of the spying that Snowden exposed - the private phones of the leaders of countries that are allies & friends of the USA, foreign companies that were bidding for contracts against US companies, UN missions, etc. Do they think it was all about spying on enemies or potential terrorists? He laid bare that lie. Hero


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