Edward Snowden became a father shortly after Christmas, an event much celebrated by the state media in Russia. Parenthood can change a person for sure. Many fathers have gone from selfish to selfless with the birth of a child. But few of them get to watch how their selfish deeds affect a family like Snowden does. His new child is a Russian citizen with all the snares of an authoritarian state. All the freedom that Snowden was able to enjoy as an American citizen, and that so many in the world want, are not available to his new child. Betraying his country was indeed a selfish act.
Where is his outrage at the recent Russian cyberespionage against the United States? A Russian law that has a “disproportionate interference with the freedom of expression and media freedom,” according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, ensures his silence. It also ensures the silence of the real patriots advocating for freedom of speech in Russia. The civil liberties that motivated him to steal classified information are few and far between under Vladimir Putin, as the situation worsens in his new homeland. His Russian hosts would not take kindly to his speaking out against such betrayal of civil liberties.
Snowden should not be the recipient of a holiday miracle in the form of a presidential pardon, which many are strangely advocating. That the case against Snowden and his potential pardon needs to be repeated today is indicative of just how far down the rabbit hole our political dialogue has gone. Reading some of the headlines and comments made by those on his behalf, one would think that he is a hero and not a traitor who bears more in common with Benedict Arnold than Nathan Hale.
Snowden did not do what he did out of principle as he likes to portray his actions. Had he done so, he would have availed himself of the countless opportunities within the intelligence community to raise his concerns about federal government programs that were classified, approved by Congress, and necessary for the national security of our country. At no point in his brief intelligence career did he seek out any of these legal remedies or whistleblower avenues available to him.
Snowden could have spoken with the inspectors general of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. He could have reached out to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its inspector general or the Senate Intelligence Committee. He could have reached out to my office in Congress or that of the House Intelligence Committee, which I chaired. He did none of these things.
Instead, what Snowden did was selectively steal information about highly classified programs and flee to Hong Kong, which is part of China, then to Russia. Both of these countries are American adversaries in the new era of great power competition. He then released this stolen information without context, spinning inaccurate tales around what our intelligence officers were doing around the world to ensure national security.
Had Snowden used any of these avenues, his concerns would have been heard and addressed. They exist for a reason and are used by those who want to raise concerns or issues. Snowden is not special in his concerns. He is only special in that he decided to betray his country. His picking of information served himself. It was not noble. Further, his behavior caused irrevocable harm to our alliances around the world, imperiled intelligence officers on the ground, and threatened the ability of our leaders to protect the United States. It was not patriotic. It was treason.
If Snowden truly believes in his actions and that what he did was both patriotic and right, he is welcome to present his case in the American judicial system. I am confident that he will decide not to take this route. He would need to justify the millions of pages of classified documents unrelated to his concerns and have to account for stolen information which protected us and is now aiding our adversaries.
A pardon for Snowden would send the worst signal to our intelligence community. It would undermine the oversight and accountability process, in effect saying that if you dislike something, then you can just leak it. It would further embolden our adversaries to solicit others to be a “hero” and betray their country. Snowden is welcome to return to the United States with his family, but he must only do so to face trial. A presidential pardon would just serve to embolden our adversaries.
Mike Rogers is a former member of Congress who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire Chair at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress and is a senior fellow with the Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Follow him @RepMikeRogers.