WASHINGTON — University of California President Janet Napolitano, the former chief of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Sunday that she opposed offering clemency to Edward Snowden, putting herself at odds with a movement that has gained strength in many parts of the state.
"I think Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated the law," Napolitano said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to the former National Security Agency contractor’s disclosure of classified documents on intelligence surveillance operations at home and abroad.
"I think he's committed crimes," she said. "And I think that, you know, the damage we will see now and we'll see for years to come."
Napolitano said she would rule out offering clemency to Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong after he began leaking documents to media outlets last summer. He now lives in Russia but has publicly asked several countries for asylum.
U.S. officials have tried to find a "balance between privacy and our privacy values and security," Napolitano said. "And remember, these are both important values. There is a balance, a right balance to be struck here.
"Mr. Snowden just decided to go off on his own," she said, and "by individual fiat, leaked very extensive information."
In June, federal prosecutors filed a sealed criminal complaint that accused Snowden of theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act for copying classified NSA documents and revealing their contents to several journalists and media organizations.
The idea of granting Snowden some form of clemency has received attention in recent weeks from two disparate sources. Many privacy advocates say he should be considered a whistle-blower whose disclosures revealed what they consider pervasive misconduct by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.
That argument appears to have considerable support in Silicon Valley as well as in traditionally liberal parts of California, including on several UC campuses.
At the same time, some current and former government officials have advocated offering clemency as a trade to ensure the return of the estimated 1.7-million classified documents that Snowden allegedly took from NSA computers at a listening post in Hawaii where he worked. Only a handful of the digital documents have been made public so far.
Rick Ledgett, who heads an NSA task force investigating Snowden’s actions, raised that possibility in a "60 Minutes" interview in December, saying the idea is "worth having a conversation about."
Many other intelligence officials disagree with both arguments.
They dispute the idea that Snowden could be considered a whistle-blower, noting that all the NSA programs he has disclosed so far were authorized by federal law or court orders. Court records show numerous instances in which NSA analysts violated court orders in carrying out the programs, but the agency's defenders say those cases were inadvertent and did not involve deliberate targeting of anyone other than alleged terrorists.
Although the programs were far larger in scope than the public knew, none of Snowden’s documents have shown the NSA or other agencies abusing their powers by pursuing people other than suspected terrorists, they say.
Moreover, unlike some laws, the Espionage Act has no exemption for whistle-blowers.
As for the idea of trading clemency for documents, opponents call it unworkable. There’s no way to guarantee that intelligence agents from China and Russia haven’t already seen the cache of documents that Snowden obtained, they say.
Asked about the possibility of making a deal to get the documents back, Napolitano sided mostly with the opponents.
"I think that would require more intimate knowledge of what he allegedly has. But from where I sit today, I would not put clemency on the table at all," she said.
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