Edward Snowden’s refuge in Russia could be nearing an end, according to a new report. Snowden, you’ll recall, is a now-infamous former NSA contractor who leaked intelligence information that jeopardized U.S. national security. Of course, his opinion of the account is different, but his tactics created a giant rift among Americans in the contentious debate between national security and civil liberties. And that rift shows no signs of healing anytime soon.
NBC reports, “U.S. intelligence has collected information that Russia is considering turning over Edward Snowden as a ‘gift’ to President Donald Trump — who has called the NSA leaker a ‘spy’ and a ‘traitor’ who deserves to be executed. That’s according to a senior U.S. official who has analyzed a series of highly sensitive intelligence reports detailing Russian deliberations and who says a Snowden handover is one of various ploys to ‘curry favor’ with Trump. A second source in the intelligence community confirms the intelligence about the Russian conversations and notes it has been gathered since the inauguration.”
We know from experience that nothing Trump does is accomplished without a deal. But Putin is a sly bogeyman. And that’s why former deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate is waving the yellow flag. He says: “For Russia, this would be a win-win. They’ve already extracted what they needed from Edward Snowden in terms of information and they’ve certainly used him to beat the United States over the head in terms of its surveillance and cyber activity. It would signal warmer relations and some desire for greater cooperation with the new administration, but it would also no doubt stoke controversies and cases in the U.S. around the role of surveillance, the role of the U.S. intelligence community, and the future of privacy and civil liberties in an American context. All of that would perhaps be music to the ears of Putin.”
As Mark Alexander argued in 2014, the issue at its core is Snowden’s message versus his method. And that could ultimately be the case with the Trump administration as well. Snowden had reason for alarm but chose a poor way to expose it. Similarly, Putin is providing a tempting offer, but that doesn’t mean Trump should accept it. Trump, along with millions of other Americans, is angry with Snowden and seeks justice. The problem is that bringing him back home in return for concessions could do more harm than good.