Why Edward Snowden won't be coming home anytime soon

SnowdenREUTERS/Mark BlinchFormer U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden appears live via video during a student organised world affairs conference at the Upper Canada College private high school in Toronto, February 2, 2015.

There’s been a lot of talk this week about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden potentially returning to the U.S.

“Snowden is ready to return to the States, but on the condition that he is given a guarantee of a legal and impartial trial,” Snowden’s Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said this week.

Ben Wizner, one of Snowden’s American legal counsels, told U.S. News that Snowden should get leniency like General David Petraeus, the former CIA chief who this week agreed to serve two years probation and plead guilty to one misdemeanour.

“If Petraeus deserves exceptional treatment because of his service to the nation, then surely the same exception should be offered to Edward Snowden, whose actions have led to a historic global debate that will strengthen free societies,” Wizner said.

However, there are clear reasons why Snowden would not be able to strike a favourable deal and return home — or move anywhere else outside of Russia.

The issue centres around the notion of a “fair trial.” The US government reportedly charged the 31-year-old with three felonies,,including two under the World War I-era Espionage Act, after he stole up to 1.77 million classified NSA documents and fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong and eventually Moscow.

“The laws under which Snowden is charged don’t distinguish between sharing information with the press in the public interest, and selling secrets to a foreign enemy,” Wizner said last May.

“The laws would not provide him any opportunity to say that the information never should have been withheld from the public in the first place,” Wizner continued. “And the fact that the disclosures have led to the highest journalism rewards, have led to historic reforms in the US and around the world — all of that would be irrelevant in a prosecution under the espionage laws in the United States.”

Snowden gave an estimated 200,000 documents to journalists. Significantly, it’s unclear what happened to the rest of the information he is suspected have downloaded.

In October 2013, James Risen of the Times reported that the former CIA technician said “he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong.” (ACLU lawyer and Snowden legal adviser Ben Wizner subsequently told Business Insider that the report was inaccurate.)

In May 2014, Snowden then told NBC’s Brian Williams in Moscow that he “destroyed” all documents in his possession while in Hong Kong.

Snowdenscreenshot/NBCSnowden speaking to NBC

Given that it’s unknown what Snowden did with the most sensitive documents he stole, any sort of clemency or lenient plea deal doesn’t seem to be a viable option right now.

“It was obviously prompted by Petraeus case, not by the Administration or Snowden,” Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist who co-wrote a book on the FSB, told Business Insider. “And as [Snowden’s camp and the US government] have a stalemate, I don’t see why it should be changed if the news is not prompted by the change of position of one of the sides.”

Last March Soldatov explained why Russian President Vladimir Putin would not want to let Snowden go.

“Just think of these paranoid guys — they’re quite paranoid in most cases,” Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist who co-wrote a book on the post-Soviet Russian security services (FSB), told BI. “They might think, ‘OK, we worked with [Snowden] for many months and if he leaves the country he will not be under our control. And the problem is that now he might start leaking things not about the NSA but the FSB, and how we treated him here.’ That might be quite a natural thought for the FSB.”

Putin flag russiaREUTERS/Denis SinyakovThe flag reads ‘For Putin. And that’s all.’

Soldatov described how Kremlin security services do things in steps, and he detailed how the FSB would likely want to have handled Snowden after he reached out to Moscow in Hong Kong.

“The first step is to get Snowden to Moscow,” Soldatov said. “The next step is to have him locked for 40 days [to decide what to do] … The next step is to provide him asylum … Then to say, ‘Someone is looking for you, you are in danger.’ … And then you have the guy in a controlled environment, and then you can work with him.”

Consequently, Soldatov believes that “Snowden made a great mistake when he decided to go to Moscow.”

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