For whatever little it’s worth, this is what I would do regarding the Edward Snowden case if I were President Barack Obama and/or a cynic*.
1. I would recognise that the value of information that Snowden has not released remains of greater value that the information he has.
2. I would recognise that it would be better to treat him with a minimum of human dignity and bring him back to the United States, rather than drive him into the hands of Russia’s secret service.** The Reuters report today that Snowden has applied for asylum in Russia is the worse possible outcome for the United States, since Snowden will have to release all information in order to justify his asylum there.
3. Therefore, I would give him back his passport, a safe flight home and legal representation. Let the press meet him at Dulles.
4. Once in the United States, I would take him into custody and provide him the opportunity to testify in a partly open, partly closed Congressional inquiry into the NSA and the real cost benefit of surveillance: his moment of glory. Obviously this inquiry won’t lead anywhere—none of these do—but it will make for excellent press and a brilliant report which no one will read (your modern Facebook friend has forgotten how to read anyway), and certainly no one will remember 46 months from today when it is finally published.
5. After serving 10 years on a Club Fed minimum security prison somewhere, I would assure him a job somewhere in the United States, perhaps at a comfortable state university or think tank somewhere providing he violates no more state secrets. He can even consult the FBI on data security (seriously—remember Frank Abagnale?)
The opposite course, which the full weight of the Federal government and the usual blow-dried members of Congress are pursuing, has no ground for resolution: it merely confirms the conspiracy theories which, rightly or wrongly, are now part of popular lore. And it only really works if Snowden is killed and no further information is leaked.
Can the United States really take that chance? I doubt it.***
© Philip Ammerman, 2013
* I am definitely a cynic.
** Let alone being condemned to spending the rest of his life at Sheremetyevo Airport - a fate worse than death which surely must count as a crime against humanity.
*** Before you get your knickers in a twist about how Snowden is a traitor and deserves execution, tell me what the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the Church Committee Report, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission have in common? Answer? They all show us that the greatest crimes occur in broad daylight and are committed by the system itself. And they have all been forgotten. So go get hissy somewhere else.