The U.S. government has begun the process to accuse Edward Snowden, the man who revealed the illegal spying scheme ran by the National Security Agency (NSA). According to sources, he will be accused of violation of state secrets, which could cost him many years in prison if he is captured, tried and convicted.
The White House still hasn’t crafted an official procedure to respond to Snowden or to the claims he made to the press. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney, yesterday referred to statements made previously by the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who warned that “any person who has access to safety data is known to have the obligation to protect such information and obey the law. ”
Those who accuse Snowden of treason, claim that he most likely signed a secrecy contract with the company for which he worked, Booz Allen Hamilton, a powerful spy missions contractor for the US government. This agreement to would have included to keep his findings secret. Congressmen and government officials who are now seeking to try Snowden says that even if there wasn’t such a contract of confidentiality, they can use numerous laws to prosecute him for various crimes.
Legal experts from the Department of Justice are working together with specialists from the FBI, according to U.S. media, to build the case against Snowden, a precursor to request his extradition to Hong Kong or anywhere else he may be. Although Hong Kong is part of China, it does have a few exceptions, such as extradition agreements, existing from the time when it was a British colony. It is unknown whether Snowden is still in Hong Kong or not, because he disappeared hours after participating in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian.
Officials quoted in the press expressed little doubt that the government has no alternative but to pursue Snowden’s prosecution, and that, surely, he will be punished severely. His case, however, is more complicated from the legal perspective than that of Bradley Manning, the soldier who supplied secrets to WikiLeaks, as it would have to be dealt with by the ordinary courts, with more safeguards and remedies than the fake military jurisdiction. For Manning, the prosecutor has requested life imprisonment for supposedly providing aid to the enemy, a charge that will not be as easy to hold against Snowden.
In the Wikileaks revelations prosecutors allege that Manning jeopardized the lives of some people who worked in the interest of U.S. security. But in the case of Mr. Snowden, it is still not clear how this type of claim could be crafted to inflict the same or even a more severe punishment. Snowden himself says in his interview with The Guardian that among the secrets to which he had access, he selected only those that did not endanger anyone. This point has not been contested by anyone in the US government.
Although the Directorate of National Intelligence has begun an investigation, experts anticipate a greater restriction of classified information to smaller circles. Journalist Glenn Greewald has publicly said that more leaks are coming and that those new leaks will be even more explosive. Chances are that intelligence agencies are now beginning to move in the opposite direction, which is not to mean that there will be more transparency.
Public awareness of these surveillance programs has sparked a debate on the need to curb government self-given powers which have been immensely expanded after the passage of the US Patriot Act, the NDAA and other bills that the executive has signed by decree, without the authorization of the US Congress.
Another questionable instruments that have appeared on the table in this crisis is the secret court’s signature authorizations for such secret activities. The tribunal, known as FISA, or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, was created in 1978 to provide some judicial control over the secret services, but it has been transformed into a YES SIR court, that, under the “terrorists are coming” mantra, authorizes numerous illegal searches and seizures of private information that are prohibited by the US Constitution.
The judges of the team are constantly on duty for the time that a government official needs an authorization for a secret search. In theory these judges analyze and study the requests, but in practice, they almost always rubber stamp any of them, especially when they arrive under the premise that the authorization is “urgent”.