MOSCOW, December 16 (RAPSI) - The US National Security Agency (NSA) official who leads the task force charged with assessing damages caused by Edward Snowden’s leaks suggested that a grant of amnesty to the whistleblower should be considered in exchange for absolute assurances that the remaining stolen data would be secured, during an interview with CBS News program 60 Minutes.
Ledgett emphasized the difficulty of the situation, stating that Snowden is believed to still have access to “a million and a half” classified documents that have not been disclosed.
These documents, as Ledgett explains it, constitute a “roadmap” of what the US intelligence community knows and doesn’t know, thus implicitly enabling other states to better protect their own information from US intelligence.
When asked if this would be a major coup for intelligence adversaries, Ledgett confirmed, “It’s the keys to the kingdom,” but noted that Snowden has refrained thus far from leaking any of the crucial documents.
Ledgett explained that despite all of this, Snowden’s current situation has effectively left him beyond reach, as he has “been granted temporary asylum in Moscow, which leaves the U.S. with few options.”
When asked by the interviewer about the possibility that Snowden might be granted an amnesty, Ledgett responded: “my personal view is, yes, it's worth having a conversation about. I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.” Ledgett noted, however, that this sentiment is not unanimous.
Ledgett’s boss, General Keith Alexander disagreed that an amnesty grant would be the right thing to do, comparing the situation to a hostage crisis. In General Alexander’s words: “This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say, ‘If you give me full amnesty I'll let the other 40 go.’”
He concluded with the sentiment that people need to be held accountable for their actions, noting that, “what we don't want is the next person to do the same thing, race off to Hong Kong and to Moscow with another set of data knowing they can strike the same deal.”
Snowden, a computer specialist and former contractor for the NSA, was the focus of international attention over the summer after he leaked classified evidence of US government surveillance programs to the media.
He fled to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum in Russia in late July despite repeated extradition demands from Washington. He is now living at an undisclosed location in Russia.
General Alexander denied claims during the interview that the NSA is widely collecting the content of phone calls made by Americans, stating: “No, that's not true. NSA can only target the communications of a [US] person with a probable cause finding under specific court order. Today, we have less than 60 authorizations on specific persons to do that.” The report noted however that the NSA does not need a court order to run surveillance against foreigners.