Snowden wants to return to US, but only after reforms
US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden said Thursday that he would like to return to his native country but that current whistleblower laws there make this option impossible.
“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” Snowden said in a live web chat.
Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who received temporary asylum in Russia in August, has been charged under the US Espionage Act after leaking information about extensive electronic surveillance programs conducted by the US government around the globe.
Under current US laws on whistleblowers, Snowden said, he does not believe he would be able to defend himself against the charges.
“This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury,” he said.
Also Thursday, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that the United States is willing to discuss a settlement of the charges, but only if Snowden would plead guilty to his alleged crimes.
“If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers,” Holder said at an event at the University of Virginia.
In an interview earlier Thursday with the US cable network MSNBC, Holder reiterated the US government’s position that Snowden broke the law and is not a whistleblower.
“In fact he caused harm to our national security and I think he has to be held accountable for his actions,” Holder told MSNBC. “People have really gotten hung up over whether he is a whistleblower or something else. From my perspective, he is a defendant.”
In his web chat Thursday, Snowden addressed recent media reports citing unidentified US military sources as suggesting that he could be assassinated in Russia, where he is reportedly living in a Moscow suburb.
“I’m not going to be intimidated. Doing the right thing means having no regrets,” Snowden said.
US President Barack Obama last week ordered a halt to government control of troves of phone data collected by US intelligence services and announced a series of other measures aimed at constraining mass surveillance programs.
Asked Thursday whether he believes the United States is capable of recovering “from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties,” Snowden said he had faith in the country’s “system of values.”
“We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account,” he said.