Snowden outwits DOJ

He is, for the moment, a man without a country. But, it looks like he may find another one soon. In a daring move right out of a Daniel Silva thriller, Edward Snowden, self-confessed NSA whistle-blower, fled Hong Kong for Moscow, where he’s reportedly on his way to asylum in Ecuador.

Whether you think Snowden’s a patriot or traitor, you have to admire his moxie. In this first round, it was him vs. the power and prestige of the United States of America. And Snowden won. He outwitted the entire Department of Justice — which, it turns out, might not be as hard as it seems.

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Indeed, on Sunday, June 9, the day Snowden identified himself as the source of The Guardian’s story on the National Security Agency’s massive phone data collection program, a friend of mine in law enforcement, no fan of Snowden’s, assured me he’d soon be apprehended and brought back to the United States for trial, and for two reasons. One, we had an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Two, the State Department would immediately revoke Snowden’s passport, and in fact had probably already done so, thereby preventing him from leaving Hong Kong. It made sense to me. My friend and I both assumed Snowden’s goose was cooked because we assumed the Department of Justice would do its job. Wrong!

For some strange reason, it took the Department of Justice almost two weeks to file its request for extradition. And, according to Hong Kong officials, when the DOJ finally did so, the papers were not properly filled out. Meanwhile, Snowden’s passport was not revoked until June 22, almost two weeks after he came forward as the source of the NSA story, giving him ample time to plot his escape. The DOJ, in other words, screwed up what should have been an easy catch, giving President Obama one more good reason to fire Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderUber donates M to supporting minorities in tech Overnight Tech: Senate moving to kill FCC's internet privacy rules | Bill Gates pushes for foreign aid | Verizon, AT&T pull Google ads | Q&A with IBM's VP for cyber threat intel Uber leadership sticking by CEO MORE.

Snowden’s fate will no doubt be hotly debated in the weeks and months ahead. That’s a legitimate topic for debate, but it’s also unfortunate. In this sense, quibbling over what should happen to Snowden could completely overshadow a more serious debate over what the NSA is doing: amassing all this phone call data.

Illinois Democrat Dick DurbinDick DurbinRepublicans seek to lower odds of a shutdown No. 2 Senate Democrat opposes Trump's Supreme Court pick The Hill’s Whip List: 30 Dems are against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE, in the Senate, and Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Justin AmashJustin AmashObamaCare gets new lease on life Top Republican: The healthcare bill is dead House GOP abandons ObamaCare repeal effort in stunning defeat MORE (R-Ill.), in the House, have raised serious questions about the NSA’s wholesale vacuuming of phone company records. How long are they keeping such records? What use are they making of the database? How many people have access to these storage bins? And, without a court-approved order of “reasonable suspicion,” what right does the NSA have to invade our privacy and capture this data in the first place? 

That’s the real debate we should be having in this country. Forget Edward Snowden, wherever he lands. The real issue is whether, after 9/11, we Americans must sacrifice every shred of privacy we have left in the name of “national security.”

Press is host of “The Full Court Press” on Current TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.