WASHINGTON — Supporters of Edward Snowden complained that the White House's pledge Friday to rein in government surveillance activities did not include amnesty for the fugitive leaker who's now holed up in Russia after revealing the secrets that led to this shakeup.
Snowden supporters were thrilled that the man they view as a whistle-blower essentially forced President Barack Obama to acknowledge and pledge to correct the excesses of a vast U.S. spying program. However, they added, Obama should have taken the additional step of pardoning Snowden, who faces three felony charges related to his disclosure of classified information he'd accessed as a contractor working with the National Security Agency.
With far too many political and legal barriers to any clemency deal, analysts say, the best the pro-Snowden camp can hope for is that the president's assertion that "this debate will make us stronger" could translate into a shift in Americans' perception of Snowden as a populist hero, not a traitor. In news releases, on television and across social media, the former contractor's supporters drove home the message that the reforms announced Friday came solely because of Snowden's unauthorized disclosures.
"Does Obama really think he'd be giving this speech or purporting to fix the broken NSA surveillance without Snowden's revelations? Please," Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth posted on his Twitter account.
"Today's important discussion would not have happened if Edward Snowden hadn't thrust the scope of the government's activities into the open," said a statement from Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on exposing corruption and other government misconduct. "Unfortunately, one major issue the president did not address was the fact Snowden did not have safe channels to make disclosures. If the president wants to prevent leaks, there must be meaningful intelligence community whistle-blower protections."
Snowden, 30, kept quiet Friday after Obama's speech. His reaction to the reforms will come next week, promised Julian Assange of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which has assisted Snowden in his disclosures and travels.