Leave Snowden snatch to ‘Homeland,’ senators say

Greg Nash

Lawmakers say it’s too dangerous for the U.S. to try to snatch National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden from his hideout in Russia.

While several said they’d like to see Snowden face charges of espionage in this country, they argue a raid to nab him from a foreign country is better off left for Hollywood, Carrie Mathison and “Homeland.”

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“I’ve seen too many James Bond movies, and as much as I like those movies, it would be very dangerous,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), dismissing the possibility of a covert snatch job as pure fantasy.

Snowden is reportedly working at a Russian technology company and living in or near Moscow. He is believed to be under the close supervision of the FSB, Russia’s security service, which would make any attempt to extricate him difficult and dangerous.

Yet the NSA is desperate to prevent him from giving up more secrets, as it worries they could be leaked to China or other U.S. rivals.

Snowden could be on the move soon because Russia granted him only a year of asylum in early August.

He has sent an open letter to the people of Brazil requesting political asylum in exchange for information about U.S. surveillance activities in that country. That could present the U.S. with a chance to capture him in transit.

A plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Vienna in July amid reports Snowden could be traveling on it.

But lawmakers say authorities shouldn’t risk violating international law or another country’s sovereignty with a daring raid. 

“My sense is that he should be held accountable for alleged crimes [and] tried pursuant to international laws. If we can obtain jurisdiction, he should have his day in court,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Army Ranger.

“I think we would be better served by following the law. Basically, the allegations is that he violated the United States law, so we should follow the law in pursuing those allegations,” he said.

Another potential problem is that many people around the world and in the U.S. think Snowden did the right thing in leaking information about the NSA programs.

A federal judge this week ruled the NSA’s programs were unconstitutional, a victory for Snowden.

There has been talk of giving Snowden “amnesty,” if he hands over an estimated 1.7 million pages of classified national security data.

A senior National Security Agency official investigating the former contractor told CBS News that he would consider a deal with Snowden under the right conditions.

Senators say that would be a bad idea. While Democrats and Republicans have found little common ground this year, they share a strong desire to see Snowden punished.

“I would never give amnesty to anybody who betrayed his country in that way, and I think it’s foolish to even think he would be interested in accepting it,” said McCain, a leading Senate voice on national security issues.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Snowden lost whatever chance he had of gaining amnesty, when he decided to flee to Hong Kong and then to Russia, instead of contacting the Senate or House Intelligence panels or the NSA’s Office of the Inspector General. A senior Democratic aide said Snowden could have received whistle-blower protections had he taken those steps.

“If Mr. Snowden had picked up the phone, called me, called the staff … and said, ‘Look, I have to come down because I think there’s been a terrible thing that’s been done,’” said Feinstein. “Instead, by his own testimony, he went to where he went with the intent of stripping the system.

“I’m very much stung by the betrayal,” she said. “At this stage, I don’t think negotiating a deal is the thing to do.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has introduced legislation to rein in the NSA’s surveillance programs, showed little sympathy for Snowden.

“If he thinks the justice system and human rights system of Russia is far superior to ours, that’s the place he should go and seek help,” he said.

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