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White House refuses to pardon Edward Snowden

The NSA whistleblower faces two charges under the Espionage Act.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Jul 28, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 6:50 am CDT

The Obama administration will not pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

After over 167,000 people signed a petition calling on President Barack Obama to allow Snowden to return to the U.S. without fear of imprisonment, the White House responded by saying that Snowden, who currently lives in Russia, must “accept the consequences for his actions.” 

Lisa Monaco, the president’s advisor on homeland security, attempted to outline Obama’s work on civil liberties and national security while criticizing Snowden’s hiding “behind the cover of an authoritarian regime.”

The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than every other president in history.

Monaco is referring to Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin. Snowden was stranded in the country in 2013 shortly after his name was revealed the world. The U.S. revoked his passport as he was attempting to transit through the Moscow airport. Snowden, who previously met with Russian officials before his trip, said he was bound for Ecuador before his travel was restricted and “never intended to end up in Russia.”

“Since taking office, President Obama has worked with Congress to secure appropriate reforms that balance the protection of civil liberties with the ability of national security professionals to secure information vital to keep Americans safe,” Monaco wrote on the official White House website.

Monaco further argued that “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,” and 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.”

Snowden’s successful run from U.S. authorities is now a stated reason why he will not receive a pardon from the Obama administration.

Earlier this year, Snowden’s attorney said the whistleblower is prepared to return to the U.S. if he’s assured a fair trial. Negotiations were ongoing at least earlier this year between American authorities and Snowden’s lawyers about a possible return. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised that Snowden would not face the death penalty if he returned home.

That guarantee that he meant that “will not be executed, not that he will receive a fair trial,” Snowden lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said.

Snowden faces two charges of violating the Espionage Act as well as theft of government property.

The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than every other president in history. Those charged by the Justice Department during Obama’s tenure include NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, State Department whistleblower Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, FBI whistleblower Shami Leibowitz, Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, and accused CIA whistleblower Jeffery Sterling.

“We live in a dangerous world,” Monaco continued. “We continue to face grave security threats like terrorism, cyberattacks, and nuclear proliferation that our intelligence community must have all the lawful tools it needs to address. The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate and those who are willing to engage in it here at home.”

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Jul 28, 2015, 12:27 pm CDT