The United States should give former NSA contractor Edward Snowden immunity from prosecution in exchange for congressional testimony.
The suggestion may strike many of my fellow national-security conservatives as outrageous. Snowden certainly violated the law and may have committed treason. But the practical question is not whether he is an evil traitor, a heroic whistleblower, an irresponsible publicity seeker, or anything else. Rather, what should be done now to best serve and protect the American people? The question calls for examining the situation — not in anger, but with cold logic.
There are two important kinds of information that Snowden might reveal. The first is information of value to America’s adversaries in operations against the United States, its armed forces, and its intelligence agencies. The second is information of value to Congress and the American public in assessing the NSA’s domestic operations and in taking action, if necessary, to uphold the Constitution and stop NSA malfeasance.
In Moscow, Snowden is well situated to provide the first type of information to our enemies and poorly situated to provide the second to us. If he were here, on the other hand, he would be well positioned to provide Americans with the second kind of information, and his opportunities to provide our nation’s foreign adversaries with the first kind would be most limited.
So we need to get Snowden back, and the only way to get him back is to set forth terms that induce him to return voluntarily. Pleading, whining, screaming, or demanding that Russia extradite him is simply absurd. Russia never has extradited any defector, and never will, because if it ever did, that would be the last defector it would ever get.
One must therefore ask the conductors of the chorus chanting “Death to Snowden” why they prefer to have the analyst talking to Russia, Iran, and North Korea rather than to Congress. Is it because the NSA regards the holders of America’s purse strings as the greater threat? If so, it would appear that the agency’s leadership has misplaced its priorities.
On the other hand, Snowden may be lying, or grossly exaggerating, in his accusations of deeply subversive anti-constitutional actions by the NSA. If so, he has done real harm to American freedom by chilling the public with unnecessary fear of a nonexistent panopticon state. Such falsehoods therefore need to be refuted. The NSA has issued denials. Unfortunately, however, because the agency previously lied to Congress and the public about the very existence of the domestic-spying program, those denials have no credibility. If the NSA is now being truthful, it needs to establish that by taking Snowden on in open confrontation.
Snowden and NSA leaders should be brought together face-to-face for questioning in public by a congressional investigatory committee, with both parties allowed to make their points and to counter the assertions of the other. If Snowden is lying, it will come out. If the NSA is lying, it will come out. If either refuses to appear, that party will be discredited.
The truth will set us free.
— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy and the author of Energy Victory. His latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was published in 2012 by Encounter Books.