Should Snowden be granted leniency? 12 replies

  • 1
  • 2

Please wait...

Commissar MercZ

Notable Loser

300,005 XP

29th January 2005

0 Uploads

27,113 Posts

0 Threads

#1 4 years ago

I was looking through news today and I saw this statement from the New York Times issued collectively by their editorial board urging the US government to consider leniency in the case of Edward Snowden, agreeing to a plea bargain of some sort or other form of clemency in light of what he had done. This does not mean no punishment all together but to lessen the severity of them.

Spoiler: Show

Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Seven months ago, the world began to learn the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights. The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.

The revelations have already prompted two federal judges to accuse the N.S.A. of violating the Constitution (although a third, unfortunately, found the dragnet surveillance to be legal). A panel appointed by President Obama issued a powerful indictment of the agency’s invasions of privacy and called for a major overhaul of its operations.

All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

Mr. Snowden is currently charged in a criminal complaint with two violations of the Espionage Act involving unauthorized communication of classified information, and a charge of theft of government property. Those three charges carry prison sentences of 10 years each, and when the case is presented to a grand jury for indictment, the government is virtually certain to add more charges, probably adding up to a life sentence that Mr. Snowden is understandably trying to avoid.

The president said in August that Mr. Snowden should come home to face those charges in court and suggested that if Mr. Snowden had wanted to avoid criminal charges he could have simply told his superiors about the abuses, acting, in other words, as a whistle-blower.

“If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. “So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.”

In fact, that executive order did not apply to contractors, only to intelligence employees, rendering its protections useless to Mr. Snowden. More important, Mr. Snowden told The Washington Post earlier this month that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the N.S.A., and that they took no action. (The N.S.A. says there is no evidence of this.) That’s almost certainly because the agency and its leaders don’t consider these collection programs to be an abuse and would never have acted on Mr. Snowden’s concerns.

In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. Beyond the mass collection of phone and Internet data, consider just a few of the violations he revealed or the legal actions he provoked:

■ The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor.

■ The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. Many of those companies are now scrambling to install systems that the N.S.A. cannot yet penetrate.

■ The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.

■ His leaks revealed that James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans. (There has been no discussion of punishment for that lie.)

■ The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the N.S.A. for repeatedly providing misleading information about its surveillance practices, according to a ruling made public because of the Snowden documents. One of the practices violated the Constitution, according to the chief judge of the court.

■ A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the phone-records-collection program probably violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He called the program “almost Orwellian” and said there was no evidence that it stopped any imminent act of terror.

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

Snowden has been in Russia for several months now (more recently issuing a Christmas message) and the government has been pretty firm in their position that Snowden was careless and should've worked through other channels to report his concerns. There has been a lot of fallout for the government from the NSA document leaks, from the revelation of the PRISM program to the documents shown by Glenn Greenwald over at the Guardian to various national newspapers in other countries reporting on the wiretapping of their government officials, like France, Germany, and Brazil.

Back in the United States there has been a lot of criticism over the scope of PRISM to the extent that there has been calls to curtail NSA's powers and even politicians have jumped on board with this. This has been the subject of court trials, which have decided both in favor and against the program as I had mentioned in a thread a few days back.

For my part I can't see the US government granting any form of leniency to Snowden, at least at this point when it is maintaining its image of cracking down on people like Snowden who they do not view as whistle-blowers. It is probably too early for Snowden to return just yet, especially as there is still a lot of back and forth in political circles over what the NSA can or can not do, as well as the usual means to try and bury and forget the story.




Nemmerle Forum Mod

Voice of joy and sunshine

298,251 XP

26th May 2003

0 Uploads

28,137 Posts

5 Threads

#2 4 years ago

Should he be granted leniency? Yes... but only if they fix shit first. Otherwise it's just a PR stunt. You don't crap all over what someone stands for and then go 'But we're cool now, right?'

Honestly, I think he'd be a fool to come back even if invited. I can't see him surviving long on US soil, made too many enemies. I'd not be surprised to see him go in an 'accident' or 'suicide', or just from being shot in the head, if his location was reasonably easy to find.




MrFancypants Forum Admin

The Bad

216,579 XP

7th December 2003

0 Uploads

19,982 Posts

6 Threads

#3 4 years ago

No. If you compare the actual value of his relevations (like noone could have guessed that any government with the necessary resources is going to get as much information as legally possible, and then some) to the potential damage (the Russians had him at their mercy) there is no way he should be pardoned. The question should be whether the US should go after him the way other intelligence agencies go after their rogue agents. Besides, for all we know he might just have been looking for fame or outright selling military secrets to China and Russia.

The important part is to get people to realize that a government will exploit what is legally possible sooner or later. Then you don't have to worry about the safety of people who might or might not be trying to improve the system.




Nemmerle Forum Mod

Voice of joy and sunshine

298,251 XP

26th May 2003

0 Uploads

28,137 Posts

5 Threads

#4 4 years ago
MrFancypants;5723466No. If you compare the actual value of his relevations (like noone could have guessed that any government with the necessary resources is going to get as much information as legally possible, and then some) to the potential damage (the Russians had him at their mercy) there is no way he should be pardoned.

What's he gonna tell them? All the interesting stuff will be locked up in documents, to which he probably doesn't even have the encryption keys on him. It's not like he flew to Russia with an F22 and handed it over, or like you can keep the entirety of a complex system in your head. The most I'd imagine he'd be able to do is hint, in ways that people could guess fairly easily anyway.




MrFancypants Forum Admin

The Bad

216,579 XP

7th December 2003

0 Uploads

19,982 Posts

6 Threads

#5 4 years ago

He downloaded hundreds of thousands of NSA files and threatens that they will all be published in case something happens to him. The Russians know that and were in a pretty good position to convince him to part with some of the information in exchange for not handing him over to the US where he'd get life in prison or maybe an execution.

Pretty sure the US would rather have handed over a F-22.




Nemmerle Forum Mod

Voice of joy and sunshine

298,251 XP

26th May 2003

0 Uploads

28,137 Posts

5 Threads

#6 4 years ago

How would he hand them over? My impression was that his security scheme was to forward the keys to those documents to trusted third parties so that he couldn't be made to give them up.




MrFancypants Forum Admin

The Bad

216,579 XP

7th December 2003

0 Uploads

19,982 Posts

6 Threads

#7 4 years ago

From what I read his plan was intended as insurance in case of US retaliation, not to protect US interests. I can't imagine that he gave up access to what he says keeps him alive. Especially if he knew that showing up empty-handed in Russia wouldn't necessarily increase his survival odds.

Besides, he is valualbe without any data to Russia. He worked for the US government for years and supposedly designed some parts of the NSA's infrastructure.

There is also a chance that the "trusted" allies of Snowden will sell the encrypted files to China or Russia - who might be able to break the encryption.




Nemmerle Forum Mod

Voice of joy and sunshine

298,251 XP

26th May 2003

0 Uploads

28,137 Posts

5 Threads

#8 4 years ago

MrFancypants;5723653From what I read his plan was intended as insurance in case of US retaliation, not to protect US interests. I can't imagine that he gave up access to what he says keeps him alive. Especially if he knew that showing up empty-handed in Russia wouldn't necessarily increase his survival odds.[/QUOTE]

If he was killed and it was dependent on it being in his hands, it wouldn't do much good against the possibility of someone bumping him off. So I think it unlikely he would have the keys.

About the riskiest way to do it would be to stick them on a server somewhere that he has to send a signal to in order to stop it sending the things out. A sort of dead man's switch. But that are numerous problems with that approach, and I'm smart enough to come up with better ways to do it. Since I can come up with those ways, and he's not a stupid man I imagine he's come up with them too.

Showing up in Russia... well, if Russia gives him up it makes them look weak vs US interests. The fact that America wants him makes him politically valuable all by itself. The minute America said they wanted him - that was the surest thing they could do, I think, to not get him back. Russia might have turned a blind eye to him being quietly kidnapped or killed before that, but after? Make them look weak if he is.

The inverse, of course, is that keeping him makes them look strong. A way of thumbing their nose at America, so to speak.

MrFancypants;5723653Besides, he is valualbe without any data to Russia. He worked for the US government for years and supposedly designed some parts of the NSA's infrastructure.

Viable security, in a computing sense, is not based on obscurity. And Snowden is probably not the only smart man alive. There's no reason to believe that he's able to design a better system than the Russians can for themselves, or to tell them weakpoints in the NSA's infrastructure that they could not discover for themselves - if indeed there are any that he knows about.

After all, generally, if you can think of a way to attack a system, you fix that flaw - provided you've the access to do so. You'd only have knowledge - at least under any vaguely sane system - of the things you've already removed as flaws.

And I doubt very much he even remembers the details of the system necessary to exploit it even if he were aware of unfixed flaws. Like I might know some details of how a system I set up works but if I don't have the source code right there.... Broad strokes, not specifics. How did you implement X in something you saw six months ago?

[QUOTE=MrFancypants;5723653]There is also a chance that the "trusted" allies of Snowden will sell the encrypted files to China or Russia - who might be able to break the encryption.

Properly done encryption - which isn't hard (when you start building elaborate protocols around it, then it becomes hard) - is to all intents and purposes unbreakable. In the sense that you'd require, even with perfect efficiency, the full output of every nuclear reactor ever made for hundreds of years to brute force your way into it.

Would they sell the keys? Well, maybe - what you'd want to do is to split the keys into multiple parts. Perhaps require all the keys to be present before anyone can use any of them to significantly reduce the security of the system, or perhaps require a certain number of keys if you thought one of your allies might balk at using them if you were killed. This is again trivial to do and would guard against America's enemies buying the things or any one of the people you send the keys to betraying you.




MrFancypants Forum Admin

The Bad

216,579 XP

7th December 2003

0 Uploads

19,982 Posts

6 Threads

#9 4 years ago

Nemmerle;5723658If he was killed and it was dependent on it being in his hands, it wouldn't do much good against the possibility of someone bumping him off. So I think it unlikely he would have the keys.

About the riskiest way to do it would be to stick them on a server somewhere that he has to send a signal to in order to stop it sending the things out. A sort of dead man's switch. But that are numerous problems with that approach, and I'm smart enough to come up with better ways to do it. Since I can come up with those ways, and he's not a stupid man I imagine he's come up with them too.

The keys don't need to be on him for his insurance to work. Likewise, the insurance will still work if he knows how to access the files. Giving away the access means trusting others with his life. Those others have to be at least somewhat removed from him in order for the insurance to work, which means that he cannot trust them 100%. So he can live with that or design a more complicated plan, which is more likly to fail. Seems very unlikely to me that he wouldn't have kept access. If only to shut things down in case his allies start selling their information to the highest bidder.

Showing up in Russia... well, if Russia gives him up it makes them look weak vs US interests. The fact that America wants him makes him politically valuable all by itself. The minute America said they wanted him - that was the surest thing they could do, I think, to not get him back. Russia might have turned a blind eye to him being quietly kidnapped or killed before that, but after? Make them look weak if he is.

The inverse, of course, is that keeping him makes them look strong. A way of thumbing their nose at America, so to speak.

Not really a problem considering that the degree of media control in Russia. If they wanted to give him up they'd develop a suitable story, maybe make a trade with the US to have something to show for it.

Keeping him and getting him to provide information on the NSA seems to be the best option for Russia though.

Viable security, in a computing sense, is not based on obscurity. And Snowden is probably not the only smart man alive. There's no reason to believe that he's able to design a better system than the Russians can for themselves, or to tell them weakpoints in the NSA's infrastructure that they could not discover for themselves - if indeed there are any that he knows about.

After all, generally, if you can think of a way to attack a system, you fix that flaw - provided you've the access to do so. You'd only have knowledge - at least under any vaguely sane system - of the things you've already removed as flaws.

And I doubt very much he even remembers the details of the system necessary to exploit it even if he were aware of unfixed flaws. Like I might know some details of how a system I set up works but if I don't have the source code right there.... Broad strokes, not specifics. How did you implement X in something you saw six months ago?

He supposedly was good at his job and he had unlimited access to information. No idea how that would translate into gaining advantage over another intelligence agency, but if he worked for a private company he'd be wrapped in non-compete clauses and burried below job offers from headhunters.

Properly done encryption - which isn't hard (when you start building elaborate protocols around it, then it becomes hard) - is to all intents and purposes unbreakable. In the sense that you'd require, even with perfect efficiency, the full output of every nuclear reactor ever made for hundreds of years to brute force your way into it.

Would they sell the keys? Well, maybe - what you'd want to do is to split the keys into multiple parts. Perhaps require all the keys to be present before anyone can use any of them to significantly reduce the security of the system, or perhaps require a certain number of keys if you thought one of your allies might balk at using them if you were killed. This is again trivial to do and would guard against America's enemies buying the things or any one of the people you send the keys to betraying you.

Assuming he did everything correctly. There is a chance that he did (given how he was an expert in these matters), there is also a chance the he didn't (seeing as how protecting himself was his priority).




Nemmerle Forum Mod

Voice of joy and sunshine

298,251 XP

26th May 2003

0 Uploads

28,137 Posts

5 Threads

#10 4 years ago

MrFancypants;5723661The keys don't need to be on him for his insurance to work. Likewise, the insurance will still work if he knows how to access the files. Giving away the access means trusting others with his life. Those others have to be at least somewhat removed from him in order for the insurance to work, which means that he cannot trust them 100%. So he can live with that or design a more complicated plan, which is more likly to fail. Seems very unlikely to me that he wouldn't have kept access. If only to shut things down in case his allies start selling their information to the highest bidder.[/QUOTE]

Trusting others with his life is something that happens whether or not he gives away the access. And retaining the files would increase the motivation for people to take him to a dark room and get intimate with a power-drill on his nutsack.

Also, retaining access wouldn't let him shut things down if his allies started selling information - and if he divided the keys no one ally would have anything worth selling. If he picked his allies then the odds of them all getting together and defecting at the same time to get access to the material would be very low - chances are they wouldn't even know who each other were - and the worth of them defecting singly would be zero.

MrFancypants;5723661Not really a problem considering that the degree of media control in Russia. If they wanted to give him up they'd develop a suitable story, maybe make a trade with the US to have something to show for it.

Keeping him and getting him to provide information on the NSA seems to be the best option for Russia though.[/QUOTE]

And then Putin's enemies get to say 'Oh, look he was bought off.' Even with the degree of media control that Russia exercises I don't think they could keep this from their own people. Snowden being turned over would be international news for weeks, a discussion topic for much longer.

Internet and all.

And even if they could, how other countries view them is at least as important as how their own people do. There's certainly a pucker factor in international affairs - do you want to piss this country off or is this someone who doesn't have much of a backbone?

[QUOTE=MrFancypants;5723661]He supposedly was good at his job and he had unlimited access to information. No idea how that would translate into gaining advantage over another intelligence agency, but if he worked for a private company he'd be wrapped in non-compete clauses and burried below job offers from headhunters.

Pretty much everyone who does anything of worth is buried in non-compete clauses of some description or another. My sister has to get her manager to sign off if she wants to work in another store - and she's a part time sales assistant. It's a way of keeping people dependent on you.

[QUOTE=MrFancypants;5723661]Assuming he did everything correctly. There is a chance that he did (given how he was an expert in these matters), there is also a chance the he didn't (seeing as how protecting himself was his priority).

I don't think those are really in that much tension. But even if they were, the safest course of action would be for him to have done nothing. Clearly there's something he values more than safety. Cynically I suppose you might say that's fame, or infamy (though, if it were, why not sell everything to the Russians - or release all you have? Go down as the biggest traitor in history), but if you think that he's a good person - well, it's going to be a form of love for his fellows; patriotism if you will.




  • 1
  • 2