Snowden attorneys are negotiating his return to the U.S.

With full amnesty off the table, Snowden's legal team seeks acceptable plea deal.


Tim Sampson


Published May 26, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 6:16 am CDT

As time runs out on his year-long asylum in Russia, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is evidently “considering” a return to the United States.

“There are negotiations,” Snowden’s German attorney Wolfgang Kaleck told Der Spiegel. “Those who know the case are aware that an amicable agreement with the U.S. authorities will be most reasonable.”

Talk of Snowden returning to his native country began last month, with news that the former NSA contractor had hired Plato Cacheris, a D.C.-based attorney with expertise in Espionage Act charges. Kaleck’s interview reveals that negotiations are apparently in full swing.

Snowden has been on the run ever since he absconded with some 1.7 million classified NSA documents last year and turned them over to journalists. Initially he flew from his home in Hawaii to Hong Kong before taking off to Russia. In Moscow, he spent more than a month in the airport’s international terminal in legal limbo waiting for some sort of asylum.

Since being granted temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden has tried unsuccessfully to seek permanent asylum in dozens of other countries. However, the U.S. has applied heavy political pressure to keep those other nations from offering him freedom.

Now, it seems Snowden’s attorneys’ have settled for finding a way for him to return to the U.S. on palatable legal terms. Kaleck argues that his client acted in the interest of public good and caused no real harm. Those facts, he said, should mitigate Snowden’s punishment.

“[O]ne could hope that a democratic U.S. government paves the way back to him,” Kaleck said.

Snowden is currently wanted in the U.S. on charges stemming from the Espionage Act of 1917. The law carries stiff penalties—even the possibility of death—though that is unlikely in Snowden’s case given the lack of apparent, immediate harm from his leaks and the high degree of public support he enjoys.

The U.S. government seems willing to play ball with Snowden. Over the past several months, Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly said he is open to working out a plea deal with the whistleblower, though full amnesty has never been an option.

“He broke the law, he caused harm to our national security—I think he has to be held accountable for his actions,” Holder told MSNBC last month.

H/T: | Image by AK Rockefeller/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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*First Published: May 26, 2014, 1:27 pm CDT