Ex-Watergate investigators urge Obama to show leniency to Edward Snowden

Members of a committee that investigated the CIA during the Watergate era have urged President Obama to show leniency on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and strike a deal to allow him to return home.

15 former members of the 1970s Church Committee, led by its former chief counsel Frederick Schwarz Jr. and ex-staff director William Green Miller, sent an eight-page letter to the President and Attorney General Loretta Lynch arguing that Snowden’s actions were a catalyst that helped change secret service policy for the better.

“There is no question that Edward Snowden’s disclosures led to public awareness which stimulated reform. Whether or not these clear benefits to the country merit a pardon, they surely do counsel for leniency,” the letter reads.

Snowden has been living in Russia since he fled the U.S. via Hong Kong in 2013. He is charged with espionage for leaking internal NSA documents to the press and could face 30 years in jail should he return to American shores. While Obama has refused to pardon him, even in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump nominating a man who once said Snowden should be executed for head of the CIA, the Church committee group said Snowden’s disclosures have been instrumental in enacting much-needed change.

The group argued that the information he brought to the public domain resulted in reform of the Patriot Act, a change in how the NSA gathers data from foreigners, and it more broadly alerted the American people to “what intelligence agencies acting in our name had been up to.”

“When intelligence agencies operate in the dark, they often have gone too far in trampling on the legitimate rights of law-abiding Americans and damaging our reputation internationally. We saw this repeated time and time again when serving as staff members for the U.S. Senate Select Committee… that in 1975-76 conducted the most extensive bipartisan investigation of a government’s secret activities ever, in this country or elsewhere,” the letter further argued.

Of course, Snowden did break the law with his actions.

On the part, the group put forward examples of past cases around the misuse of classified documents, such as National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and CIA Directors David Petraeus and John Deutch. They argued that Snowden acted in a more selfless way than others who were shown leniency for their actions, and that this should be given due consideration.

“Snowden’s explicit intent was to raise public awareness about activities that he believed (and that all three branches of government have to varying degrees affirmed) were illegal, or overbroad, so that there could be a robust public discussion about the proper scope of government surveillance.

“Snowden did not try to mask his identity, or lie to the FBI. He knew he would pay a personal price. As he has,” the group added.

Back in September, activists and lawyers from a number of human rights organizations came together to present Obama with a case to pardon Snowden. This time around, the former Church committee group is asking for leniency since it doesn’t believe that a full pardon is a feasible outcome. It closed its message to the President with the hope that authorities can “negotiate a settlement with Edward Snowden of the charges against him that both sides can accept.”