Dueling letters are headed to the White House urging President Obama to issue an executive decision on whether or not to pardon Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who exposed the agency's mass surveillance of Americans.
In an open letter to President Obama, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence urged the President not to issue a presidential pardon to Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia. The letter stated that Snowden “infringed on the privacy of thousands of his friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens by obtaining security credentials through misleading means, abusing his access as a systems administrator, and removing personally identifiable information.”
The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, NSA and Cybersecurity Subcommittee Chairman Lynn Westmoreland, NSA and Cybersecurity Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Himes, among other members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Moreover, the material Mr. Snowden stole pertains to lawful intelligence activities authorized and overseen by all three branches of government,” the committee members wrote.
The same day, the committee voted to approve an investigative report on Snowden that detailed the “tremendous damage to national security” wrought by the whistleblower's actions. An unclassified summary of the report declared that “the vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests — they instead pertain to military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to America's adversaries.”
“Edward Snowden is no hero – he's a traitor who willfully betrayed his colleagues and his country,” wrote Rep. Nunes, in a statement accompanying the committee's approval of the report. “I look forward to his eventual return to the United States, where he will face justice for his damaging crimes.”
The committee's letter was published a day after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch launched a campaign that asks President Obama to pardon the former NSA contractor and recent Oliver Stone protagonist.
The petition has been signed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former director of the White House National Security staff Timothy Edgar, and former CIA Division Chief and Senior Analyst Melvin Goodman.
Snowden has “already been vindicated in multiple ways,” wrote ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero in a blog post that accompanied the petition. Romero noted that that a federal appeals court ruled last year that the NSA's meta-data collection program revealed by Snowden was illegal. “It's indisputable that our democracy is better off thanks to Snowden, and it's precisely for cases like his that the pardon power exists,” he wrote.
The recommendations voiced by these two documents echo the divergent ways in which information security and national security professionals view Snowden's actions. Robert A. Manning, resident senior fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, at the Atlantic Council told SCMagazine.com that “you take an oath when you enter into this work,” and he viewed Snowden's releases as a “breach of faith.” Manning was previously a senior strategist at the National Counterproliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
The dilemmas raised by Snowden are a “Pandora's box of technical, social and political issues,” wrote Michael Covington, VP of Wandera in an email to SCMagazine.com. While the situation was triggered by an insider who “obtained information and ultimately shared it illegally,” he sees the scenario as containing a level of nuance. “But there's an argument -- perhaps philosophical in nature -- that could position the move as being positive for society,” he wrote.
Other security pros see valuable lessons in an examination of how Snowden successfully executed the leaks. Kevin Bocek, Venafi's vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence noted that the firm conducted research that found that Snowden had subverted encryption to exfiltrate data from the NSA without being detected. “It was only after a leaked memo from the NSA to Department of Justice that confirmed Snowden used a colleague's digital certificate to gain unauthorized access to an encrypted tunnel,” he wrote to SCMagazine.com.The notion that information “should be publicly available” is “way out of hand,” Manning told this publication. “He violated his commitment and I don't think that is pardonable.”