Why Obama should not pardon Snowden

Nathan Smith at NBR writes

As expected, a nasty nails-on-chalkboard chorus of Edward Snowden supporters are building hopes for a pardon by US President Barack Obama during the last few months of his final term.

Mr Snowden?s 2013 leaks from the National Security Agency (NSA), the equivalent signals intelligence of New Zealand?s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), were the greatest haemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in history.

Mr Snowden?s job, as a contractor at NSA Hawaii, was as a sharepoint manager ? a traffic cop for the sharing of information. His having access to something on the order of 500,000 documents was about as suspicious as a librarian being seen with books. Still, the question immediately after his leak was: How did it happen again?

When Bradley Manning, a US Army private sitting in a tent in Kuwait, downloaded 250,000 State Department cables in 2010, we now know the US intelligence community began a programme to enact real-time monitoring of its secured internet.

The last place to be updated was NSA Hawaii. And Mr Snowden knew that. This is why he fought for the Booz Allen contractor job, leaving a good role with Dell. He had the malice of forethought and a goal to steal as much as possible.

He remains a traitor. ?Not a whistle blower. ??

Mr Snowden?s secrets didn?t expose some US covert action in Iran. That would have been a leak, filling perhaps a barrel or a cup. His secrets exposed the plumbing. He revealed how the NSA collects its intelligence and as a result the US didn?t simply lose data, it lost the capacity to gain data.

Finally, employees at the NSA and Five Eyes countries have been slapped around for three years. They read daily indictments about how terrible and disgusting they are for doing a necessary job. That will have a long term negative effect on morale.

If the president issues a pardon, morale will further decline. It will signal to the community that regardless of legal protection and oversight, (the NSA and its partners are subject to the most rigorous oversight regime in the world), the whims and feelings of a troubled young man can overrule everything if he uses the amorphous excuse of public interest.

There are stories of married intelligence workers each taking their job so seriously they only discover the other works in the same building when the agency holds an unexpected family open day.

So advisers to Mr Obama should ask him: Does he like getting intelligence? Because pardoningMr Snowden will remove it ? entirely. No intelligence professional would ever again risk their life if political consumers are not willing to defend them.

Hackers, leakers, whistleblowers and criminals are in a fair amount of control these days. ?Politics, government and even large companies are having to find new ways to operate in a world where law enforcement is unable to keep up.

We may have to learn how to adjust to the new realities, but the last thing we need to do is celebrate these people.