The White House on Monday said there had been “no change in U.S. policy” toward Edward Snowden, after a top National Security Agency official suggested the administration have a “conversation” about offering the former NSA contractor amnesty in exchange for the return of a cache of top-secret documents he stole.
“Mr. Snowden is charged with a felony and he should return home to face those charges, where he will be afforded all due process,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
During an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday night, Richard Ledgett, who heads an NSA task force handling unauthorized disclosures, said officials should weigh offering amnesty to prevent further disclosures.
Ledgett is expected to take over as deputy director of the spy agency in January, following the retirement of John “Chris” Inglis. He was previously director of the NSA's Threat Operations Center and director for collection/national intelligence manager for cyber at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Snowden has taken up temporary asylum in Russia, after originally fleeing to — and then from — Hong Kong earlier this summer. After spending more than a month in the Moscow international airport after the U.S. revoked his travel documents, Russian authorities provided him a year-long asylum stay.
Since then, journalists with whom Snowden collaborated have continued to publish stories revealing the size and scope of the agency’s intelligence-gathering operations. Those included details about U.S. efforts to monitor foreign leaders’ telephone calls, sparking a diplomatic crisis for the Obama administration.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told The Guardian — the paper that published the original story about the NSA’s surveillance program — that Ledgett was stating a “personal view.”
“Our position has not changed,” Harf said.
Separately, the White House said last week it had received an outside review commissioned by the president examining the NSA’s surveillance program against privacy considerations. The report includes more than 40 recommendations in light of the Snowden disclosures, which the administration is now evaluating.
“The president has indicated that in this review he would be, and he would hope that those who are working on it with him would be looking at what we do through the prism of what he's described as making sure we're doing everything we should do, but nothing we can do just because we can,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Friday.
Obama is expected to speak publicly about the report when the administration makes a declassified version available in January.