Snowden should return to US but ‘answer for what he’s done’ – Clinton
Clinton’s comments came at a New Hampshire town hall event, when someone asked her whether Snowden, who revealed the NSA’s massive foreign and domestic surveillance program, is a patriot or a traitor. According to The Hill newspaper, Clinton said Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong and then Russia made her suspicious.
“Because he took valuable information and went first to China and then is now under the protection of Vladimir Putin, I think that raises a lot of questions about everything else he did,” she said. “So I do not think he should escape having to return and answer for what he has done.”
Clinton went on to say that the US government needs to balance civil liberties and privacy with security, which is “always a challenge.”
Afterwards, Clinton stated that she thinks Snowden would have been protected if he decided to remain in the US and go public with what he knew about the NSA, an assertion that has been heavily questioned by his supporters.
“I firmly believe that he could have gone public and released the information about the collection of information on Americans under whistleblower protection, and he could have done it within the tradition in our country that shields people who come forth acting out of conscience to present information they believe the public should have,” she said.
She specifically highlighted the fact that Snowden ended up whisking away troves of information, including data that was not limited to government spying on Americans
Clinton said he stole “a lot of information that by any definition had nothing to do with American civil rights, liberties, and privacy, but instead were about terrorists and what other nations, just to name two, Russia and China, do to try to gather information about us and what our government tries to do to prevent that and to try to get information about them.”
The comments are generally in line with what she said during the first Democratic presidential debate this week, when she claimed that Snowden would have been protected in the US and that the information he took fell into the wrong hands.
However, numerous outlets have scrutinized her comment since the debate, with many coming down against her claim. According to the fact-checking site PolitiFact, her claim that he would have been protected as a whistleblower was rated “mostly false.”
Since Snowden was charged under the Espionage Act, he could be convicted simply for the fact that he revealed classified information – charges for which he could face up to 30 years in prison. Under this law, he would not be permitted to make a public interest or whistleblower defense in court, and the reasoning behind his actions would be inadmissible as evidence.
Snowden could have potentially earned some protection through the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, it is unclear how helpful that would be, particularly since Snowden was concerned with classified information and the NSA has argued that its surveillance program fell under the law. As a government contractor and not a full time employee, it’s also unclear to what extent Snowden would have been shielded.
Earlier in October, Snowden said he would be willing to serve prison time as part of a deal that would allow him to return to the US. Presumably, such a deal would include allowing him to mount some kind of whistleblower defense, but he said the Justice Department has not reached out to him about his proposal.