So a lot is being made of former AG Eric Holder saying that Edward Snowden "performed a service" to the government by taking a treasure trove of NSA documents to leak, but it's more complicated than that.
In an appearance on former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod’s podcast, Holder said Snowden’s 2013 leaks “harmed American interests” but that the light he shone on controversial government practices could mitigate some of the damage done.
"I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised,” Holder told Axelrod. “There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence."
In other words, Snowden forced the NSA to re-examine methods and manners across the board, which for an intelligence agency is I guess a good thing, being stuck with outdated (or in this case, wholly compromised) resources makes the agency useless.
Which of course was Snowden's entire point, to render the NSA powerless internationally.
“He's broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done,” Holder continued. "I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate."
Appearing from Russia via videoconference at a University of Chicago event earlier this month, Snowden reiterated his willingness to return to the U.S., but only if he could be guaranteed a “fair trial.”
“If I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury," Snowden said. "But, as I think you're quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You're not allowed to speak the word 'whistleblower' at trial."
Since Snowden's definition of a fair trial is "one where he walks free and is treated like a hero after delivering reams of classified NSA information to Russia and China" no, he's not going to get a fair trial and should stay in Moscow.
Besides Putin is having too much fun laughing at us. In a lot of ways, Edward Snowden is one of the Obama administration's biggest failures with repercussions affecting American intelligence services for years, if not decades to come.
Whether or not you agree that Snowden jump-started the debate over civil liberties in America is one thing, but the fact that Snowden broke the law doing it doesn't absolve him of the crime, either. Both can be true, that Snowden started a needed debate, and that Snowden needs to face trial, and that continues to be my position.