The Times advances the NSA’s amnesty-for-Snowden trial balloon

January 2, 2014

Of course the New York Times editorial page wants clemency or, at the very least, a generous plea bargain for National Security Agency contractor turned super-leaker Edward Snowden! The news pages of the New York Times have directly benefited from top-secret leaks from Snowden to break stories since last August, when the paper acquired a cache of his NSA material from the Guardian. (The Guardian published its own “pardon for Snowden” editorial today.) In urging leniency for Snowden, the Times editorial page is urging leniency for a specific news-pages source, which the editorial doesn’t directly state. If that doesn’t define enlightened self-interest, nothing does.

The Times editorial page operates independently from the Times news operation, so I’m not suggesting that Executive Editor Jill Abramson instructed Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal what to write. But on this score, she probably didn’t even have to stifle the urge. For the last decade, the news side has been breaking stories about warrantless surveillance by the NSA, a secret bank-data surveillance program, and, via WikiLeaks, the war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. diplomatic cables. The editorial page has lectured the government on its overreach and incompetence in the security realm. Abramson and Rosenthal, who report to the same publisher, obviously harmonize on this score. Even if they didn’t, it’s unlikely in the extreme that a Times editorial would ever call for a Times news-side source to be seated in a Judas Cradle as punishment for leaking to the press.

Did I say unlikely in the extreme? Allow me to reverse my course. Not every editorial page is buckled to its news pages. Take the Washington Post for example.

Last summer, a few days after the Post published its first news stories based on the Snowden files, the paper’s editorial page took a hard line on Snowden, surmising on June 11 that “If there is a scandal here, it may be that a government contractor of Mr. Snowden’s status had access to so much highly classified material.” By July 1, the paper was literally editorializing for the government to do everything possible to plug the leaks and for Snowden to surrender to U.S. authorities. At the same time, the paper’s reporters, led by Barton Gellman, were sluicing those very secrets into the Post‘s news pages and continue to do so. Just before Christmas, Gellman published on the Post‘s Page One a flattering Q&A with the leaker. The harmony between the editorial and news sides, which I posit as a given at the Times, seems dead at the Post. The anti-Snowden editorials may have softened since the summer, but they still aren’t vectoring toward any call for clemency.

You could ridicule the Times editorial for wild, wishful thinking had Rick Ledgett, a top NSA official in charge of the Snowden damage-assessment task force, not also entertained the idea of amnesty on 60 Minutes three weeks ago. “It’s worth having a conversation about,” said Ledgett, who is expected to be the agency’s next No. 2 official. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured and my bar for those assurances would be very high.” Ledgett insisted his statement represented a “personal view” — as if top NSA officials expecting promotions are allowed to share their “personal views” about national security on national TV. Was he expressing the agency’s powerlessness to contain future leaks of the 1.7 million documents Snowden’s now believed to have stolen, and trial ballooning the possibility of a deal, or was he gaming Snowden, as I conjectured at the time?

Newspaper editorials, in my view, rarely have any impact on the real world. They exist to lend the oversized egos of publishers and owners a sense of power over politicians, politics, and public policy. But sometimes, just sometimes, an editorial can make a difference by adding velocity to an idea already in motion. By publishing its 1,100-word editorial, the Times fills the clemency cup that a top NSA official lathed into being before a television audience. Any criticism of the Times, for promoting clemency, need also address Ledgett’s very public offer of the same with Snowden. His discussion of amnesty on 60 Minutes was about as subtle as a pick-up line shouted across a singles bar at closing time.

I can almost see the words forming on ABC News White House correspondent Jon Karl‘s lips as he stands to ask a question at President Obama’s next news conference: “Mr. President, the New York Times has editorialized in favor of clemency for Edward Snowden. A top NSA official also publicly explored the possibility of amnesty for Snowden on 60 Minutes. What terms would you propose for a Snowden deal?”

The president will duck. He’ll have to duck. But some sort of Snowden deal is still in play.

“The government knows where to find us if they want to have a productive conversation about resolutions that don’t involve Edward Snowden behind bars,” Snowden legal adviser Ben Wizner told the Post‘s Gellman last week.

The next move belongs to Obama.


Will pawn take king? Send your favorite chess moves to My Twitter feed plays Twister. Sign up for email notifications of new Shafer columns (and other occasional announcements). Subscribe to this RSS feed for new Shafer columns.

PHOTO: Screen grab of Edward Snowden giving the Alternative Christmas Message on Britain’s Channel 4, Dec. 25, 2013.



We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

No one is even chasing Snowden any more. His 15 minutes expired long ago, and Russia is a good place for him.

He is trying to keep himself in the news and feel sought-after, but he has no more material:

“I have proof that the CIA has engaged in espionage.”

Really? A spy agency was spying? That blows my mind, Snowden. You are very important :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

If his revelations are all well known and harmless then really he’s not the traitor many claim he is – unless the anti-snowden posters are part of a larger campaign to discredit him via fake posts, e.g. ght-social-media-running-mass-propaganda -accounts/

Posted by mgunn | Report as abusive

He’s an ef’in traitor and DEVGRU should go collect him or leave him in a landfill.

Posted by PeterGunn45 | Report as abusive

there should not be any amnesty or pardon for this traitor.

Posted by Spitfire9447 | Report as abusive

I would have agree with Snowden, if he would report NSA violation bring it to the attention of congress or FISC. Instead he prefer to run away with data he downloaded when he has system admin privilege to countries like China and Russia that is hostile to our nation defense and security – which should not be tolerated while the press(esp NYT an guardian) has brought the attention privacy violation of NSA which has blown out of proportion to the public with mass hysteria.

Considering who(Ron Paul) he support in 2008 for presidential election it already shows you where this guy stand and why he did what he did – not just to release violation of 4th amendment but bring down NSA and FISA. Of course he not going to admit his intention explicitly. This is the trend of people who are anti-establishment which are extremist of all stripes. Snowden and Manning won’t be the last of these traitors.

Posted by droopy | Report as abusive

If you were Snowden and the US offered amnesty, would you trust them?

Posted by adamrussell | Report as abusive

Reuters has benefitted massively from Snowden too. I am calling out hypocrite.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

If you want to discuss criminality and abuse, let’s do it. But let’s do it with equal consideration to both sides. Did Snowden violate his promise to keep secrets? Yup. Did he violate his oath? TBD. Did officials violate their promise to keep secrets? Yes. Did they violate their oaths? Yes, again.

This issue isn’t about Snowden, it’s about power–guaranteed to us Constitutionally and systematically eroded to protect us, without asking us….

A traitor is someone who sells out his country in favour of another one or for their own selfish gain. Who’s a traitor?

Posted by nedski | Report as abusive

Snowden won’t be accepting the amnesty even when offered. Lack of trust is the main factor here but nonetheless all charges against him should be dropped and his passport should be sent to him in Russia.

Posted by Bugzy | Report as abusive

mgunn, as in all things, there are minor traitors. Snowden is not dangerous. He’s boring and he’s a showboat.

Now that it’s winter in Russia, he tries to talk Brazil into hosting him so that he can help with their getting-spied-on problem. A problem which (coincidentally I’m sure) Snowden revealed to them just two weeks before his request for asylum there. Autumn was the big Germany revelation (in time for Oktoberfest I guess?). Unfortunately for Snowden, he was denied entry there too.

What a wimp. He chose Russia. He should be able to at least over-winter there. Pussy Riot stays all year :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The NSA has no standing to say “We’re going to prosecute” or “We’re going to offer a pardon” or “We’re not going to pursue the case.”

Anyone who thinks they do has a deep misunderstanding of how the criminal justice system works on the Federal level; it’s the Department of Justice that would have to advance the offer for it to have any standing.

It’s the Department of Justice that investigates and prosecutes criminal cases at the Federal level, including breaches of the various secrecy acts.

Posted by Burns0011 | Report as abusive

Snowden is the proverbial “… dead man walking.”

Given the background of just the War Crime invasion and occupation of Iraq (with the associated civilian mass casualties); who in the U.S. Government can claim any particular moral or legal high ground; domestically or internationally?

Snowden advised the American public that “The government is coming! The Government is coming!” (“Three, if by Internet.”)

In the background, the avowed “terrorists” don’t use the ‘regular’ Internet; or traceable phones. Similarly, the various drug cartels do the same. The proposed “criminal intervention” spying potential can ONLY hurt the American public; assumed to be law-abiding.

For those who believe that the “NSA Power” could have stopped 9-11; guess again. The purported culprits were well-known in advance – including “Project Bojinka;” a 1995 Islamic militant plot discovered in Manila. AND, the world forgot to note that no one took credit for 9/11.

Sorry, but bin Laden denied involvement during a late October (2001) interview. The “fat man” propaganda video – purported to be bin Laden – was ludicrous, at best. Then, at least in the Times of India, bin Laden’s obituary was published in the spring of 2002. As to the Abbottabad, Pakistan raid, there was no viable evidence of bin Laden presented in something as simple as photographs. If bin Laden’s body was recovered from the Abbottabad compound, it was probably well-preserved.

As to the purported 9/11 hijackers and planners, whatever anyone wants to make of it, the internet is loaded with accounts that the purported 9/11 planners & hijackers were allegedly well known to the U.S. criminal & intelligence agencies. Then, there’s that business of seven of the purported hijackers quickly calling in still alive; and perturbed – no ‘official’ explanation was subsequently offered.

The NSA doesn’t need “power;” it needs competence – and accountability.

More recently, the Russians spoon-fed the elder of the Tsarnev brothers to the U.S.; but the Boston Marathon bombings went down, regardless. To date, the FBI, in particular, can’t account for not only missing the “lead;” but, instead, facilitating the older brother by downgrading his “security watch” status – when he was in Russia; trying to hook-up with Islamic militants. Then, once the Boston Marathon bombings happened, the FBI depended upon the public to identify the Tsarnev Brothers? What? The NSA wasn’t needed for the Boston Marathon bombings; but they still didn’t weigh in – even with their “secret power” up and running.

So, what can anyone realistically expect of the NSA spying power which is acclaimed to be necessary for “National Security?” As to the many acclaimed “uncovered terrorist plots;” they are still ‘classified;’ but who can rationally find any viable faith in such claims, accordingly.

BUT, in acknowledging that NSA power (revealed by Snowden) – soon to be expanded by the new Utah facility – the essence of the “NSA story” is that the ability/power is useless, on the NSA’s best day!

Technically, sure, Snowden can be prosecuted. Possibly, he did some significant peripheral additional damage. But, in the broader picture, is prosecution what the bulk of the American public wants; versus the opposite?

Those who would prosecute Snowden also took an “Oath of Office;” but they are the greater American enemy – in their ignoring of the U.S. Constitution! In Snowden’s worst moment, he can claim to have done his best to protect the American public – from the American Government.

No amount of political or legal psycho-babble can change the “American heart,” in that regard.

And, who would prosecute Snowden? U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, who is named in the investigation in the “Fast and Furious” gun-running operation to the Mexican cartel; as is his Deputy?

In the meantime, Snowden still has more information to reveal. That’s not someone to be marginalized. Sure, it’s blackmail, of sorts. But what is the alternative?

The sad but far greater reality is that Snowden is probably going to be very mysteriously killed. At best, he could be given any magnitude of clemency; but “the system” would nail him on some other charge; corrupt, or otherwise – or arrange a mysterious death. History is far too clear, that’s “the American Way.”

In the meantime, word has it that John Kerry is entertaining the release of the convicted spy, Jonathan Pollard; to Israel. “Deep Politics” being what it is, few know or appreciate the damage that Israel caused the U.S. with the information which Pollard he sold to Israel – America’s friend and ally. (Information unconfirmed, a this time.)

Rationally, one would think that in Snowden’s shadow, Pollard’s fate would be more tightly sealed.

The bottom line is that Snowden’s greatest threat is a book and/or movie deal – coming out of Russia. No American publishing company would be allowed to go near Snowden; while Hollywood has its own (ineffable) reasons to not do his movie.

Snowden’s best bet is to find a Russian bride; and forget the USA. Today, he’s a legend; soon, he’ll probably be a martyr.

Ironically, the longer Snowden is in limbo, the world’s (private) hackers will be diligently working on methods to thwart those such as the NSA. Possibly, also, a list of foreign intelligence services will also be contributing to that effort. Naturally such intelligence agencies will be highly motivated to shield themselves from the NSA & Associates; irr3espective of Snowden. But, it would be well worth their time to “prank” the NSA, by allowing Americans to secure their privacy. If “Americans” can’t get caught; neither will any spies.

In the interim, Snowden has illustrated that the American public has the mandate to watch everything that they do or say – carefully.

In parallel, the NSA aside, Americans should also be aware that in the USA, private corporations are profiling as many people as possible – by mining the Internet – creating a retail product, similar to the “credit report.” It’s not just the NSA who is to be feared by the American public.

Additionally, “Private Investigators” are attuned to a huge spectrum of tattle-tale information and access to the “hacking” abilities which would allow them to do such as activate such as a cell phone or ‘tablet’ microphone & camera. A lot of these capabilities are highly illegal, but with the U.S. government having one more resource available; it’s a simple matter of “…. Please don’t get caught.”

One way or another, Snowden is destined to be remembered as the “Paul Revere” of the 21st Century – possibly in context of the entire world. It shouldn’t be lost that Paul Revere was a British traitor.

Paradoxically, did the British population hear and comprehend what Snowden had to say? “Three, if by Internet …”

Posted by SKYDRIFTER | Report as abusive

If Snowden is not actually an operative, then I weigh in with Snowden. He says what he means and he means what he says, which is a lot more than I can say for those who rebuke him or wish him harm. I personally never asked to be protected from ‘terrorism’ in the way that the government has deemed fit. It’s not a very smart approach, one that creates a world divided and strangles more thoughtful strategies. Of course, if the underlying machinery is based on money and power and self righteousness, then, I guess were stuck with the way things are, but not with my vote.

Posted by tdigenti | Report as abusive

Isn’t it great that we live in a county where both liberals and conservatives can be self-serving parasites?

Posted by baroque-quest | Report as abusive

At some point we were to have, according to the President, “a healthy discussion on the matter”.

Is this it ?

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

If Snowden is to be prosecuted for violating his oath then so should 98% of the senate and 75% of congress for cementing a clearly unconstitutional program directly against their oaths of office and include Clapper and Alexander for multiple counts of perjury. But we all know that won’t happen until every single sitting representative is voted out of office. You want justice ? That’s how you will get your justice.

Posted by UScitizentoo | Report as abusive

Mr. “Mission Accomplished” can spend the rest of his days in Putin’s Russia.

Since he violated that simple “Semper Fi” oath, he should always remain banished from his Country of birth.

Posted by Wgward | Report as abusive