The White House rejected a petition requesting a “full, free, and absolute” pardon for whistleblower Edward Snowden on Tuesday, citing “severe consequences” for the United States and “the people who work day in and day out to protect it.”
Responding to the petition filed online at the We The People page of the White House website - backed by nearly 168,000 people - the Obama administration said that former NSA contractor Snowden, who made stunning revelations about the US government’s surveillance practices, should not have stolen information and instead protested constructively.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the President’s Advisor on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco finally provided an official response to the petition launched two years ago after Snowden’s initial leaks were published in mass media outlets, including the Guardian, the Washington Post and New York Times.
“Mr Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it,” Monaco said.
Criticising Snowden for taking matters into his own hands and engaging in unlawful behavior, Monaco added that “If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and - importantly - accept the consequences of his actions.”
Saying Snowden should leave Russia, where he has currently been granted asylum and face trial in the US, Monaco wrote “He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers - not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he’s running away from the consequences of his actions.”
Snowden was working for Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the NSA, until May 2013. In June 2013, he revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to journalists and entered the international spotlight once stories broke in news outlets based on the information he provided.
The US Department of Justice charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property on June 14, 2013. Each of the three counts carries a maximum possible prison term of ten years.
In an interview with German channel ARD broadcast in January 2014, Snowden stated that he would not be returning to the United States as Obama had suggested a few days before the interview.
"What [Obama] doesn't say are that the crimes that he's charged me with are crimes that don't allow me to make my case. They don't allow me to defend myself in an open court to the public and convince a jury that what I did was to their benefit. … So it's, I would say, illustrative that the President would choose to say someone should face the music when he knows the music is a show trial," Snowden explained.
The petition, which was started on June 9, 2013, referred to Snowden as a “national hero” and asked the president to immediately issue “a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.”
A secret NSA program that Snowden exposed has been deemed illegal by a US court and the NSA has been ordered to end bulk data collection of telephone records, which the US administration said it would stop accessing on November 29 and will destroy as soon as possible.