Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says he wants to return to the U.S. to resolve his standoff with American authorities over classified data he leaked last year, but that he can’t do so until he can be sure he’ll get a fair trial.
“Returning to the U.S., I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” he said in a live online chat Thursday.
Snowden said that unless the law changes, he would not be allowed to properly defend himself against charges he violated the century-old Espionage Act. “This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.”
Earlier in the day Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview with MSNBC that he might “engage in a conversation” with Snowden if he took responsibility for leaking secrets. Holder rejected the idea that Snowden might be a candidate for amnesty. During Thursday’s live chat Snowden did not offer a comment on Holder’s statement.
During most of the live chat, which took place on the website freesnowden.is, Snowden offered his opinions about the state of mass surveillance in the U.S. and President Obama’s proposed reforms to NSA programs. Those reforms were announced in a highly anticipated speech last week, ahead of the publication today of a damning report from the government’s own Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which called the NSA’s so-called “bulk collection” programs ineffective and illegal.
The President proposed changes primarily in oversight of the NSA’s surveillance programs but left intact the essence of “bulk collection,” in which the phone records of millions of Americans are gathered. Snowden argued this kind of mass surveillance ought to be scrapped entirely.
“When even the federal government says the NSA violated the constitution at least 120 million times under a single program, but failed to discover even a single ‘plot,’ it’s time to end ‘bulk collection,’ which is a euphemism for mass surveillance,” Snowden said. “There is simply no justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate.”