Intelligence chief wants Snowden 'accomplices' to return documents

The United States’ director of national intelligence (DNI) on Wednesday called for Edward Snowden’s “accomplices” to return the government documents they obtained from him.

DNI Director James Clapper's use of the term accomplices had many wondering if he was referring to the journalists who have published stories revealing Snowden's secrets. Tensions between the press and government have intensified in both the U.S. and Great Britain over the publication of stories based on Snowden's leaks.

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“Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished," Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.”

Clapper did not say what he meant by accomplices, but DNI public affairs director Shawn Turner told The Hill that Clapper was referring to “anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs.”

Clapper told the panel that Snowden was responsible for “the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.” 

Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist who is perhaps the reporter most closely associated with Snowden, wrote on his blog that Clapper's remarks were stunning.

“Is it now the official view of the Obama administration that these journalists and media outlets are 'accomplices' in what they regard as Snowden's crimes?" he wrote. "If so, that is a rather stunning and extremist statement. Is there any other possible interpretation of Clapper's remarks." 

Since last June, Snowden—a former National Security Agency contractor—has been leaking highly classified U.S. documents to journalists all over the world. 

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder dismissed the possibility of a clemency deal for Snowden, but expressed that he’d be open to having conversations with him if he pleaded guilty to the espionage charges he faces. 

Snowden has been living in Russia since last August after its government granted him temporary asylum. One influential Russian lawmaker recently hinted that Russia might extend Snowden’s asylum to become indefinite. 

Julian Hattem contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 5:58 p.m.