Tonight the press reported that President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning who was jailed for leaking material to WikiLeaks and essentially gave the site it’s rise to fame (or infamy depending on who you ask). So the natural follow-up question is what about a pardon for Edward Snowden the well known leaker of NSA and mass surveillance secrets?
The answer is don’t bet on it. The White House addressed that question by stating it regards Snowden as a fugitive, who has not served anytime for his leaking of sensitive information, and has sought haven in a country the U.S. considers an adversary, i.e. Russia. There’s no way Obama could pardon Snowden without causing an uproar and Obama is seeking cover by claiming Snowden hasn’t been convicted of anything so he can’t pardon him. That excuse doesn’t really fly because there are examples of presidents issuing pardons without the person(s) having criminal convictions, ex. draft dodgers and hmmm…oh right Richard Nixon when pardoned by Gerald Ford. But the question isn’t about Obama not being able to do it it’s that politically he couldn’t. It would create a firestorm in Washington, a divide with the intelligence community, and adding to this is the fact that Snowden is in Russia.
This brings us to a possibility for Snowden to be apprehended not by the U.S. but by Russian authorities. The fact is Snowden was a thorn in the U.S. side that Putin liked to be able to remind them about and he was perfectly happy using Snowden to further enrage the U.S. But that will change, not might change, will change. Whatever Trump’s ties to Russia (and they are dubious no doubt about it) Trump wants better ties and Putin has said the same. Trump might also be looking for a means of mending a rift with the intelligence community that he created and Snowden might be the proverbial stone for killing multiple birds. Everyone knows Putin has no respect for privacy or human rights and if giving Trump Snowden makes Trump happy he’ll do it for some favors his way. And this brings me back to WikiLeaks and Assange who recently has demonstrated his own ties to Russia are becoming more obvious by the day. Assange once claimed that he wouldn’t fight extradition to the U.S. if Manning’s sentence was commuted. Well, with Trump now going to be in power, how likely is it that Assange would be extradited given Assange helped Trump and Trump was recently reaping praise on him? Did Assange also help Putin by helping deliver Snowden to Russia as a means of helping Putin poke and prode Obama over the years? We may never know. Seem far fetched? Well consider reality 2017 so far. There’s evidence of Russia involved in hacking during a U.S. election, helping the soon-to-be President win after information was posted on a site run by a man the U.S. considers an enemy, that the President-Elect has now praised, but there also may be a video of some sort involving the President-Elect that Russia might be using as blackmail against him and a hacker group anonymous claims it will get it out. Oh and the Pres-elect compared his intel services to Nazi Germany and called CNN and BBC fake news. So. This is how our year begins.
Not even 24 hrs after writing this Russia claims it’s extending Snowden’s asylum by 2 years. Don’t take that as a sign of security but the opposite. It lends more credence to my theory. The timing is meant to reassure that Snowden, with a new President coming in, isn’t going anywhere but it’s only for 2 years -why? They know there’s no time limit on the U.S. pursuing him and even before that period he could be turned over. And why is Russia even thinking he needs reassurance? Clearly for a reason. There is no certainty in Putin’s Russia, except for uncertainty. He wants Snowden to get cozy and not think about leaving because he is a bargaining chip that the Russians don’t want to lose. Trump needs some political victories and especially with the intel community and with other Republicans. Trump getting Snowden into the U.S. he would take as a victory especially with Obama just commuting Manning’s sentence which angered many Republicans. Putin I’m sure would be happy to help in exchange for anything to improve Russia’s position in the world and economic situation. Putin is an old KGB man. Don’t think he has a soft spot for whistle blowers, if anything, he sympathizes with NSA but knows Snowden is a useful card to play.
It’s clear the big winner here is Manning for getting some big relief from having her sentence commuted by roughly 30 years. And the big loser might be Snowden, caught in a political game that is not yet over. If I were him, I’d move.