The White House finally responded to a popular petition at WhiteHouse.gov urging President Barack Obama’s administration to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. However, the response is a bald-faced attempt to use the petition as a platform to assassinate Snowden’s character.
First off, the petition to pardon Snowden had nearly 168,000 signatures. Only a few petitions responded to by the White House have more signatures (for example, address gun violence through gun control legislation and legally recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.
The petition was posted on June 9, 2013, and was largely inspired by the revelation that the NSA was collecting the metadata of phone calls of millions of Americans, who have Verizon as their phone carrier. Nevertheless, it took the White House more than two years to respond to this petition.
The response focuses on the “serious consequences” Snowden’s whistleblowing has had on “national security.” It includes a statement from Lisa Monaco, the President’s Adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
“Mr. 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,” Monaco declares.
“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,” Monaco adds. “He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he’s running away from the consequences of his actions.”
Monaco concludes, “We live in a dangerous world. We continue to face grave security threats like terrorism, cyber-attacks, 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.”
In June, as the USA Freedom Act was under consideration in Congress and PATRIOT Act provisions were about to expire, White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest said, “The fact is Mr. Snowden committed very serious crimes, and the US government and Department of Justice believe that he should face them.”
“That’s why we believe Mr. Snowden should return to the United States, and he will have the opportunity if he were to return to the United States to make that case in a court of law,” Earnest stated. “Releasing details of sensitive national security programs on the internet for everyone, including our adversaries, to see is inconsistent with those protocols that are established for protecting whistleblowers.”
Snowden did not publish any documents to the internet. They were all provided to journalists, “who used their editorial discretion to decide what was worthy and in the public interest to know.”
The response to the petition reeks of political opportunism. Since June, the FBI has been escalating the amount of propaganda and hype it pushes into the media about the threat of the Islamic State to Americans.
“What keeps me up at night is, probably, these days, the ISIL threat in the homeland. And I worry very much about what I can’t see. You know, that’s what keeps me up,” FBI Director James Comey said during the Aspen Security Forum. “If you imagine a nationwide haystack, we’re trying to find needles in that haystack. And a lot of those needles are invisible to us, either because of the way in which they’re communicating or just because they haven’t communicated or touched a place where we could see them.”
Comey said the Islamic State is not “your parents’ al Qaeda.” The group takes advantage of social media and crowd sources terrorism.
“The problem we’re facing is, even with judicial orders, which is at the core of our work, we are unable to find out what people are talking about when we’ve demonstrated probable cause to believe they are terrorists or they are serious criminals,” Comey claimed. “Because of the nature of the encryption. We don’t have the ability to break the strong encryption.”
The impetus of the White House response is that Snowden is responsible for some of the problems the United States is having when it comes to handling security threats.
Notice the response did not come from a legal adviser addressing whether it would be reasonable to pardon him because he enabled a conversation that needed to happen (something even Republican and Democratic senators who loathe him admit to be true). Rather, the response came from a Homeland Security adviser, who will always be more concerned with what the president should fear than accountability and openness in government.
Instead of meaningfully addressing the issue of whether Snowden is a whistleblower who deserves a pardon, the White House recycled some of the most prominent, tired, and weak criticisms of Snowden advanced by media personalities, like Vox’s Max Fisher and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, as well as criticisms spread by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The White House used the petition as a platform for assassinating Snowden’s character instead of addressing the specific concerns of hundreds of thousands of Americans, who support a pardon.