By Carlo Muñoz - 12/13/13 03:28 PM EST
Officials within the National Security Agency are considering whether to grant Edward Snowden amnesty and allow him back into the United States, in order to get back reams of classified information taken by the former agency contractor.
Rick Ledgett, the head of NSA's Snowden task force, told CBS News that considering amnesty is "worth having a conversation about," if a deal meant the return of the agency's secrets.
"It would be more than just an assertion on his part," he added.
Administration and U.S. intelligence officials assert Snowden stole more than 1.5 million classified documents detailing specific NSA programs and operations, only a portion of which have been made public.
A possible amnesty deal would not only bring those documents back to the NSA, but also allow Snowden to return from Russia, where he is currently living in asylum, back to American shores.
Getting those classified documents back into American hands would effectively stop the political bleeding for the agency and White House, who have been in damage control since the initial Snowden leaks.
But NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander said an amnesty deal for Snowden would send a dangerous precedent within the agency and the intelligence community writ large.
"I think people have to be held accountable for their actions. … Because what we don't want is the next person to do the same thing, race off to Hong Kong and to Moscow with another set of data, knowing they can strike the same deal," Alexander said in a separate interview with CBS.
"This is analogous to a hostage-taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, 'If you give me full amnesty, I'll let the other 40 go.' What do you do?" he added.
The damage done by the Snowden disclosures, which included details of the agency's extensive electronic surveillance operations, have roiled Washington and its allies across the globe.
Tracking of email traffic and cellphone conversations of U.S. citizens at home and abroad set off a flurry of congressional hearings, aimed at reining in the agency's operations.
Most recently, a White House-mandated oversight panel is preparing a slew of new restrictions and guidelines for NSA intelligence operations.
The report, expected to be delivered to President Obama this weekend, would make changes to the NSA's controversial practice of collecting records on all U.S. phone calls. The New York Times wrote that the report would allow the bulk collection to continue under "broad new restraints."
The report is expected to recommend that the president and other senior White House officials directly review the list of any foreign leaders under surveillance.
The panel will also call the creation of a public advocate to argue for privacy rights before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides legal oversight for the NSA and other U.S. espionage operations.