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One Year Later, Snowden Still Evades U.S. Charges


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. A year ago today, one of the country's most sensitive national security programs was dragged out of the shadows. U.S. government had managed to keep the massive phone surveillance program a secret for more than a decade after 9/11. And then former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began to share with reporters documents he had taken from the agency. Snowden went on the run, ending up in Russia where he's found temporary asylum. In a moment, the impact of his revelations on the tech industry. But first, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports on Snowden's legal plight.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Edward Snowden faces charges that threaten to send him to prison for decades. Prosecutors in Virginia accuse him of stealing government property and sharing defense and intelligence secrets with people unauthorized to see them. But one year after his leak shook the Obama administration, Snowden is nowhere near a courtroom. That annoys Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke with CBS recently about the case.


SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: You know, he should man up and come back to the United States if he has a complaint about what's the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case.

JOHNSON: Earlier this week Admiral Michael Rogers, the new head of the national security agency, told an audience that Snowden was, quote, "probably not working with foreign powers, and he may have been acting on his beliefs." So the government's tone is all over the map. As for Snowden, his legal advisor, Ben Wizner, says he'd like to come home.

BEN WIZNER: He has never stopped believing that he is on the side of U.S. government, that he's not working against the U.S. interest. And he would like to come back and find a way to contribute to the historic reforms that his act of conscience inspired over the last year.

JOHNSON: Wizner says he won't share private conversations between Snowden's team and the government, but two sources tell NPR American officials are worried about any negotiations being monitored by authorities in Russia, where Snowden now lives. That's a familiar concern for Veteran Defense Lawyer Joshua Dratel, who's represented several fugitives.

JOSHUA DRATEL: The whole question of communication security is a significant one which obviously, ordinarily eliminates phone or e-mail contact. But even in the context of some place like Russia could even make a face-to-face communication even susceptible to monitoring.

JOHNSON: And if they can find a way to talk, the U.S. will want Snowden to reveal what he took. Dratel says negotiating path back to the United States in these kinds of cases is all about reverse engineering.

DRATEL: You start from the acceptable resolution for both sides, and then you work backward to achieve that. If you start from the ground up I don't think you'd get very far because there are too many issues that could present obstacles.

JOHNSON: Translation - figure out a punishment for someone like Snowden and then cherry pick any charges to which he'll plead guilty or get some deferred penalty. Snowden's legal advisor, Ben Wizner, likens him to Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers leaker.

WIZNER: I'm quite confident that if not immediately, in time, history will view Edward Snowden as an even more important and more consequential whistleblower than Daniel Ellsberg. And, in my view, criminal punishment is not the response to someone who launches such a critical public debate.

JOHNSON: Wizner says it's all but certain Snowden can stay in Russia, even after his one-year grant of asylum expires this summer. There's a chasm between what the Snowden team wants, no prosecution - and what prosecutors may demand - a guilty plea. But Wizner says everyone involved in the negotiations hopes they can find common ground. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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