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Edward Snowden says he didn't cooperate with Russian intelligence services (npr.org)
57 points by known 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



I'm not sure he would have a choice if asked to, nor would he be allowed to say anything else.

He still could be correct, but his status makes it hard to simply believe what he says outright.


I highly recommend watching his interview with Brian Williams from 3 days ago[0].

His answers to Williams’ questions are incredibly compelling and very fascinating. He explains in detail why he did exactly what he did, how he evades surveillance in Russia, why he won’t come home, among other issues. His one condition for returning home was a trial by jury, which DOJ wouldn’t give him.

He’s incredibly confident that he would be found innocent in a jury trial, pointing out that DOJ has had six years to dig up and leak anything they could find on him, and yet they haven’t. In addition, the programs he blew the whistle on were shut down after their disclosure, indicating that he was justified in bringing them to the public’s attention.

I can’t recommend actually listening to him enough instead of reading his words. He’s an incredible speaker who makes a very compelling argument around his current situation.

0: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=e9yK1QndJSM


It's not that he wants a jury trial, which is guaranteed to him by the Bill of Rights, but that he wants to make a "my actions were in the public interest" defense which is not allowed.


I think he can say that.

But yeah as far as a legal mechanism the jury can't say "well he met the requirements of public interest and the law says that means he's innocent / should go free".


The jury can. It's called jury nullification. The problem is most juries aren't aware of this and feel compelled to follow the court's instructions on the matter. Which is why Snowden feels disadvantaged


the legal mechanism does exist, it's called Jury Nullification


He explicitly states in the interview that he wants a jury trial because his charges under FISA jurisdiction and can only be adjudicated via a judge, no jury.


Something is really bizarre here on both sides.

Russia has a track record of intimidating or killing journalists and political activists and has an aggressive anti-spy program. It's really hard to believe the official narrative that a former NSA employee with technical skills and security clearance shows up in Russia and after he refused to cooperate they "didn't know what to do with him" so they left him alone. I find it hard to believe they don't have someone tracking him 24/7.

The US was fighting tooth and nail to get Snowden extradited in the early days of his escape. After that their strongest public statements have been encouraging him to "repatriate and defend himself in court" which they know he's not going to do.

The more likely scenario seems that the US and Russia are already getting what they want from Snowden or are perhaps simply negotiating the price of his return with the US acting like they don't care and Russia calling their bluff by letting him make public appearances.


I think it is possible the US "doesn't care" to the extent that they're not going to bother with someone who is generally out of reach beyond some extra ordinary measures that they're not willing to expend on someone like Snowden.

US intelligence agencies generally hunting down every last spy or leaker is just not a thing historically. They have "given up" on such people to the extent that they don't take extra ordinary measures many many times in the past.

Russia has done the same, or at least did regularly during the cold war. Recent history is a bit different and difficult to compare though with Russia as the motivations and who is in charge of what security service do not all appear to be aligned for any given person.


They kill journalists who expose their corruption, not that of other countries. They most certainly have someone tracking him, Snowden mentioned that he believes as much in his interview.

The US doesn't win much besides PR by getting their hands on Snowden at this point. The things he revealed have already had their consequences. Similarly, on the Russian side, it doesn't cost them anything to harbor Snowden, but it does make for a flashy middle finger to the United States.


Well you know what would have made him at lot less likely to cooperate with Russians, if he didn't fear persecution for whistle blowing and never went to Russia.


To be fair to Snowden, he ran to China / Hong Kong first. (Although China is also quite authoritarian and probably doesn't care about free speech rights).

I'm fairly convinced (through a tin-foil hat sort of way) that Russia did something to steer Snowden into Russia. Hypothetically: Snowden's flight plan was rerouted into Russia after Snowden fled Hong Kong (when Hong Kong announced it was going to cooperate and extradite Snowden).

Snowden's ideal target to run to was Ecuador (who at the time, was hosting Julian Assange). The difficulty was routing a flight plan from Hong Kong to Ecuador without touching a US-controlled location. They routed the flight plan through Russia and... well... Russia probably wanted him. So Russia kept him.


Personally I think being fair to Snowden would be to give him a pardon and bring him home, a long time ago.


The fairest thing possible is for him to speak his defense in court, to a fair and impartial jury. And for the jury to decide.

You shouldn't be "pardoned" of a crime that you haven't been put on trial for yet.

------------

BTW: What do you feel about some other presidential pardons? Do you think it was fair for Joe Arpaio to be pardoned even after the courts found him guilty of a crime? There's nothing "fair" about pardons. A pardon is a way for the President to value-signal that certain crimes were worth it. In the case of Joe Arpaio, Trump reinforces his values.

Court is about being fair: Jury decides based on the evidence. And the court stays in session until the Jury is unanimous.

Given how the current President has used the pardoning system, I'm not exactly confident in it anymore.


Comparing Snowden to Arpaio, ok.


I'm comparing the use of pardons. I don't intend to compare the men themselves.

The fact of the matter is: Arpaio demonstrates that some pardons can be "unfair". I don't think you can expect to get a system of "fairness" when pardons are in play. In contrast, I still personally have great confidence in the jury system.


I think the point isn't that pardons are fair, but that pardons can be used to make unfair court verdicts fair (ie acquit someone who was deemed to be guilty but the people feel is not).


Your statement is orthogonal to the original point, which is whether we should trust him with his denial or not.


I guess it's hard to disagree with this statement, but it doesn't really affect how I feel about the whole thing.


I think his status makes him more believable, considering he is one of the only ones who told the truth about the American surveillance system. You know his conscience is more important to him than his job or family. I would say that makes him pretty trustworthy.


I'm not convinced he is in a state where we can be sure his conscious is driving what he says.


As others have noted: Russia has a history of intimidating, silencing, and secretly killing dissidents. Simply being in Russia means that whatever Snowden is saying, is tacitly "blessed" by the Russian government.


Of course it is, he is embarassing their biggest competitor and ripping the band-aid off the gaping wound the US likes to call "freedom."

Why mess with the golden goose? They just let Snowden do his thing, he doesn't have any useful intel for them as they are running the same types of programs.

You are correct that if Russia didn't like what he is saying he'd be in detention. They really like how he embarasses US.


it's possible, of course, but I rate this as a very unlikely scenario that Russian security services would have failed to induce him to cooperate at least to some extent or in some way during all this time.


I'm not sure what they'd need him to cooperate with. He already gave up all the sensitive information he had.

But I suppose he has been reluctant to openly condemn Russia's own human rights abuses. That could be simple self-preservation, or he could have been threatened.


US judicial system is far from perfect. In this case it seems to be too dependent on intelligence services declaring Snowden un-judgeable. That, I think, caused the flight.


Eh I think Snowden rightly figured that he would have had a hard time prevailing in court based on his situation. Intelligence agencies can't just say, "this guy doesn't get a trial". It's just that a trial would have been hard for him to win.

To use whistleblower protections, he would've had to go through official channels. But doing so would have made it likely that his concerns would be quashed and that he would've faced retaliatory action. Previous NSA whistleblowers didn't fare well.

So with that defense out the window, he would've had to hope a jury would not find him guilty because of what he was attempting to expose. The government would have argued that he stole classified materials and that he signed oaths that he would protect classified materials under penalty of law. They would argue he should be convicted of this theft, whether or not his intentions were noble.

That would have been a big gamble to take in court, because if he lost he would've been looking at a long, long time in jail. He could've made a plea deal, but again, a good amount of jail time.


> To use whistleblower protections, he would've had to go through official channels. But doing so would have made it likely that his concerns would be quashed and that he would've faced retaliatory action. Previous NSA whistleblowers didn't fare well.

That's - logically - the point of his defence. Since Snowden can plausibly argue that he couldn't go through official channels - and his proof is previous cases - he doesn't have a choice other than going around them. The perceived interests of American public - which are for grand jury to determine, IMO - require, in case when there is no regular way, to do it "irregularly". Otherwise the law breakers - the intelligence services - go uncorrected.


Cooperating or not, by being in Russia, he's helping Russia, which is why Russia has agreed to put him up.

I think that -- had he faced the music -- he'd be out of jail by now and considered a hero by most Americans. I don't blame him for avoiding imprisonment (I doubt I'd have done differently) but I do think he made the wrong choice. There's a reason the stories of Socrates and Jesus have endured.

Please note: I'm not saying that he deserved punishment. I'm saying that submitting himself before unjust punishment would have been the correct choice with respect to achieving his stated goals.


What's the argument to support the claim he'd have served a 5 year jail sentence only? Reality Winner, who leaked far fewer documents in a far less damaging way several years after Snowden's leak and who had not become a real political football, got 5 years in a plea bargain. Chelsea Manning got 35 years commuted to 7. We know Obama wouldn't have commuted Snowden -- and at any rate the Obama pardon of Manning seemed as much about the human rights issue of a transgender woman in military prison receiving fairly poor treatment -- but even if we assume Snowden would have gotten commuted at 7 years he'd still be in jail.

Ending a claim that starts with "He'd be out of jail by now" with "He'd have a better reputation if like these other two guys he let himself get executed" also makes it a little hard to reconcile.


> We know Obama wouldn't have commuted Snowden -- and at any rate the Obama pardon of Manning seemed as much about the human rights issue of a transgender woman in military prison receiving fairly poor treatment -- but even if we assume Snowden would have gotten commuted at 7 years he'd still be in jail.

We don't know that. If Snowden had handled his situation differently from day one, he very well could have been pardoned. It all hinges on the American public's perception of him, which is today largely negative (HN is an outlier). My sense is that Americans would have approved of his actions had he made his case in a court room.

But we're both just speculating about events that didn't happen.

> Ending a claim that starts with "He'd be out of jail by now" with "He'd have a better reputation if like these other two guys he let himself get executed" also makes it a little hard to reconcile.

I made two separate claims. The first is that I think there's a reasonable chance he'd have been pardoned or avoided significant jail time had he not fled.

But the second doesn't depend on the first. Even if he hadn't been pardoned, Snowden would be a more effective symbol of the misuse of state power from an American jail than he is today in Russia. I understand that's quite a sacrifice and, like I said, I don't "blame him" for fleeing. I'm just stating my opinion that he'd have been a more effective advocate had he not fled.

Ghandi, Mandella, King, Suu Kyi all did time. There's a reason Letter from Birmingham Jail is so powerful.


I felt opposed to your argument that staying would have been better for him. His and our visibility what the outcome would have been is near zero. He would have been in prison, but how long - no one can say. A smart person wouldnt bet on such unsure thing.

But what you said about the human rights activists, i completely agree. Had he stayed i'm sure he would have had a much greater legacy. But to willingly decide to go to prison and leave the normal life, your girlfriend, your hobbies behind for indeterminate amount of time. A tough decision to make. Speaks volumes about how a story like Jesus would spin an entire religion around it. Cant blame him for the decision he made. He already gave up a lot when he blew the whistle and to give up even more for idealism's sake? We see it in movies, but when it actually happens to you..


I agree, there's no way Snowden would have gotten away with a 5 year sentence. He probably would have gotten something similar to Manning, with maybe a chance of parole at some point.


Like the other comment, I don’t think that the US gov would set a precedent that you could publicly release many of their top secret programs and only go away for less than 6 years. And that’s also with any public outcry.

He’d still be locked up. Otherwise, you’d have a string of other “heroes” leaking everything they could.


> I don’t think that the US gov would set a precedent that you could publicly release many of their top secret programs and only go away for less than 6 years.

If US would continue its violations of the law, those cases would possibly continue, and with public support, and in cases when "hero", "traitor", "whistleblower" is caught, US would be seen bad.

US intelligence services should stop violating the law.


> I don’t think that the US gov would set a precedent that you could publicly release many of their top secret programs and only go away for less than 6 years.

Pvt. Manning was pardoned, so is it unreasonable to think that then-President Obama could have pardoned him?



Why do you think he'd be out right now? Manning got 35 years, was only out due to a pardon, and is right back in again.

Also consider that he's been able to advocate for privacy for years now, something he couldn't (easily) do from a cell.


I think there's a reasonable chance Snowden would have been pardoned. Also consider Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg made himself available for prosecution, saying:

> I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision

That's powerful stuff. Ellsberg was indicted but the judge declared a mistrial (due to prosecutorial misconduct). I think it's quite possible something similar would have happened with Snowden.

> Also consider that he's been able to advocate for privacy for years now, something he couldn't (easily) do from a cell.

I don't think Snowden has been an especially effective advocate for privacy among Americans, who remain skeptical of him. He's far more popular among Europeans. Anyway, my argument is that he would have been more effective had he not fled.

Snowden today also faces the paradox of public virtuousness, wherin goodness exposed in public is necessarily corrupted because it become self-serving. Allowing himself to be jailed would have mitigated that.


> Cooperating or not, by being in Russia, he's helping Russia, which is why Russia has agreed to put him up.

How is he helping Russia?


It's a great narrative for them: giving compassionate sanctuary to a heroic whistleblower being persecuted by the evil, imperialist US.


Well, if you can't expect sanctuary in your home country or any of its allies, where else should you go? In the end, the enemy of your enemy really might be a friend or at least the least bad choice after all.


I'm not saying anything against Snowden. He did what he had to do, and Russia wasn't his first choice. But it does, unfortunately, hurt his message.


Yeah, I think I get what you mean.

I'd love if some European state would have provided him with asylum, but I doubt he would be as safe here as he is in Russia. Sadly.


> I think that -- had he faced the music -- he'd be out of jail by now and considered a hero by most Americans.

This is an insanely naive viewpoint, considering that the POTUS declared Manning guilty prior to her trial, and then she was tortured so extensively during the process that she tried to commit suicide.

Tortured to death is not quite the same as being released early and treated as a hero.


I don't know about that, martyrdom aside I'd personally rather not be in prison in most cases.

It's tricky to know how the government officials really feel, Eric Holder seems to have superficially softened his stance. No matter how much they now extol the public value of what Snowden did, when you get down to brass tacks, they won't compromise about him needing to serve time. I don't know if that's ever going to go away.


He's definitely helping Russia, and in this case it's wholly because US insists on being wrong - not just wrong, but easily showed wrong.


> Cooperating or not, by being in Russia, he's helping Russia, which is why Russia has agreed to put him up.

The question isn't whether he cooperated with or helped Russia. The question is whether he had a choice.

Given that the guy has been asking the DOJ for a fair trial for the last 5 years so that he is able to come back home, I don't think he had a choice.

If he did not have a choice, Snowden is not helping Russia by being there, the US is helping Russia by forcing Snowden to be there.

So I don't think this hurts Snowden message. Somebody somewhere made the call that it would be more valuable for the US interests to send a strong message against leaks than what they would loose if Snowden were to leak everything they knew to Russia. Independently of that call was good or bad, it wasn't Snowden's call.


> he'd be out of jail by now

What are you basing that on? There have been no comparable cases that I know of. On the other hand, from known hacking punishments, Kevin Mitnick served 5 years - I doubt Snowden would get any less. Manning got way more as mentioned in another comment.


It was not his choice to be in Russia in the first place. The US government revoked his passport (which should not be possible in the first place). Given that happened, you probably should think about your analysis of the situation :)


Putin: Hold my Vodka


It's in Russia's best interest to make him complicit in espionage. They then hold dirt on him. A potential vicious cycle for an otherwise patriotic individual. I'm team snowden.




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