Lawmaker asks SXSW to withdraw Snowden invite

A member of the House Intelligence Committee is asking the festival South By Southwest to withdraw its invitation to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who has denounced Snowden’s leak of hundreds of thousands of NSA documents, said his appearance via webcast would undermine the “fairness and freedom” the event is meant to promote.

“Mr. Snowden’s appearance would stamp the imprimatur of your fine organization on a man who ill deserves such accolades,” Pompeo said in a letter to the organization, which goes by SXSW.  “Rewarding Mr. Snowden’s behavior in this way encourages the very lawlessness he exhibited.”

Documents leaked to the press by Snowden revealed the U.S. government's secret phone and Internet surveillance programs.

Snowden is slated to speak at the festival Monday via webcast. The festival will allow guests to ask questions during an event billed as a “virtual conversation with Edward Snowden.”

The Monday discussion will focus on how his revelations have affected the technology community and will be moderated by members of the American Civil Liberties Union. The panelists will also discuss how people can use technology to protect themselves from mass surveillance.

Pompeo said Snowden’s only claim to fame was his willingness to “steal from his own government” and then flee to the “Russia of Vladimir Putin.”

The congressman branded Snowden a traitor and took a shot at “his media enablers.” He said the United States cannot protect people’s civil liberties without a strong national defense and informed debate.

“This discourse is undermined when a music, film and interactive conference and festival provides a venue to an at-large criminal, who has refused extradition to answer for his crimes in court,” he said.

Pompeo asked the SXSW moderators at least ask a series of challenging questions of Snowden, who is currently in Russia after being granted temporary asylum.

The questions include: Why did Snowden steal tactical military and strategic secrets? What is his relationship with Russia? Why didn’t he take the information to an inspector general or a member of Congress? Why is he not willing to come back the United States?

In earlier interviews Snowden has said he did not take the information to Russia, after he fled.

“There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” he told The New York Times last year.

Snowden has said it would be the best thing for all parties if he would return to the United States, but U.S. whistle-blower protection laws to do cover national security contractors.

“Returning to the U.S., I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle-blower protection laws,” he said in an online question and answer in January.