Catch him if we can: How Edward Snowden can help solve our cyber woes


In the movie “Catch Me If You Can” based on a true case, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young charismatic forger, Frank Abagnal Jr., who evades capture until the IRS eventually arrests and convicts him for his escapades. But while he is in prison, the same IRS agent (Tom Hanks) who relentlessly pursued his quarry, comes to offer him a job helping the IRS pursue other elusive forgers. He accepts, and is at work for the government as the clever and entertaining movie ends.

DiCaprio showed sometimes it takes a thief to catch one — a happy ending.

I recall this movie now as I think about the hackers who have caused major international problems by interfering with our and several other countries’ institutions. Their motive: ransom money. How could these people perpetrate such consequential criminal acts, and at that evade detection? Doesn’t the most powerful country in the world have the best resources to prevent cyberattacks, and catch cyber criminals?

{mosads}Here’s a thought: Why not offer Edward Snowden a deal whereby he pleads guilty to his misappropriation of government property (he does not deny this) and offer him the right to make restitution in lieu of costly, useless imprisonment in the form of useful service to his country in assisting in the capture of the anonymous current hackers, and in the prevention of further recurrences like theirs?


No one loses under this plan: Snowden already admits that he did what he wasn’t permitted to do (think of David Petraeus and his plea deal). Chelsea Manning has just been released by President Obama’s commutation, after serving seven years in prison, and her mischief served no socially useful purpose. Whatever critics think Snowden’s disclosures, they led to presidential, congressional, judicial and international reforms.  

Before he was elected president, Donald Trump called Snowden a traitor for sharing classified information with the Russians. Perhaps he will be more empathetic now that he is accused of the same behavior.

With my proposal, the government gets free professional services, as Snowden works off his sentence — the ultimate community service. While there is no guarantee he will succeed, why not try? Would it not be better if Snowden were here in the U.S. attempting to aid his country by offering his skills for a worthy and essential cause than sitting in Russia, which is harboring him to embarrass the U.S.? 

Snowden broadcasts regularly to a worldwide audience that respects him and his ideas. Forget the useless debate about whether he is a villain or saint. He could become an asset to the U.S. rather than a fugitive of limited public value, if we let that happen.


Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, D.C., and Miami-based attorney, author and literary agent. His most recent work is “After Snowden: Privacy, secrecy security in the Information Age,” published by Thomas Dunne Books, 2015., email:

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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