German demonstrators show support for Snowden at a protest in Berlin in June.
NSA officials are considering allowing whistle-blower Edward Snowden to return to the United States in exchange for the massive trove of documents he took from the agency and gave to reporters in June.
An amnesty, which does not have the support of the State Department, would represent a surprising denouement to an international drama that has lasted half a year. It is particularly unexpected from a surveillance agency that has spent months insisting that Snowden’s disclosures have caused vast damage to US national security.
The NSA official in charge of assessing the alleged damage caused by Snowden’s leaks, Richard Ledgett, told CBS News an amnesty still remains controversial within the agency, which has spent the past six months defending itself against a global outcry and legislative and executive proposals to restrain its broad surveillance activities.
“My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett, who is under consideration to become the agency’s top civilian, said in an interview slated to air Sunday evening on 60 Minutes. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.”
The Justice Department charged the 30-year-old former contractor with theft of government property, unauthorized dissemination of information pertaining to national security and “wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” but he has not yet been indicted. He remains in Russia, where he was granted a yearlong asylum.
NSA Director Keith Alexander said granting Snowden amnesty could incentivize future leaks, but he retires in the spring, and Ledgett may replace Alexander’s civilian deputy, John C. Inglis. The State Department confirmed Sunday that Ledgett was describing a “personal view” when discussing the possibility of amnesty.