A New York Times editorial published this week has stirred up fresh debate over the fate of NSA leaker Edward Snowden. In the piece, the Times described Snowden, who famously leaked thousands of highly classified National Security Agency documents to the press, as a "whistleblower" who deserves "some form of clemency."
This statement prompted lawmakers, like Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., to lash out publicly against Snowden and the newspaper, saying on the Fox News Channel: "Edward Snowden is either a traitor or a defector or both. And the New York Times is an accomplice."
Snowden, a contractor for the NSA, got the attention of the nation last year, when he leaked classified intelligence that disclosed a broad data collection operation, that included monitoring the lives of everyday Americans. Shortly after the release of the information, Snowden made his way to Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum. In June, he was charged in this country with theft and espionage.
The Times editorial board went on to say that "considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain.."
That idea of offering Snowden a deal appears to be something U.S. officials have, at the very least, considered. In an interview last month with CBS's 60 Minutes, Rick Ledgett, the head of the N.S.A. task force investigating the leaks, said a reduced punishment was "worth having a conversation about." He said, "I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured."
The president, meanwhile, appeared to be less forgiving. When asked during a press briefing about Ledgett's comments, he said "There's a difference between Mr. Ledgett saying something, and the president of the United States saying something."
In statements to British TV over Christmas, Snowden held firm to his decision to release the documents. "End mass surveillance," he said. "Remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying."