The State Department and the current and former National Security Agency directors over the weekend dismissed the idea of granting whistle-blower Edward Snowden amnesty if he agreed to stop leaking classified documents — an option the NSA is reportedly considering.
The NSA official in charge of stopping the leaks, Rick Ledgett, told CBS News last week that some NSA officials would consider an amnesty deal for Snowden, who has so far revealed only a small fraction of what he has.
But NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said the idea was “analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then (saying), ‘If you give me full amnesty, I’ll let the other 40 go.’ What do you do?”
Alexander, who appointed Ledgett to his position, said such a move could encourage others to “race off to Hong Kong and Moscow with another set of data, knowing they can strike the same deal.”
Snowden, a U.S. citizen and former NSA contractor who fled the United States and has been granted temporary asylum in Moscow, is believed to have access to 1.5 million additional secret documents. He previously indicated he would return to the U.S. if he were granted amnesty.
“It’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett said — but he added that the amnesty option was not unanimously agreed on within the spy agency.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Sunday that Ledgett was stating a “personal view.”
"Our position has not changed,” she said. “Mr. Snowden is facing very serious charges and should return to the United States to face them."
In an interview with NBC, former NSA Director and retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden agreed with Alexander that such a deal would be ill advised.
"I wouldn’t do it. That simply motivates future Snowdens," said Hayden.
Snowden took the classified documents while working as an intelligence contractor for the NSA and began leaking details of U.S. spy tactics to media outlets in May before fleeing to Hong Kong.
He is wanted by the U.S. government on charges of theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person.
Leaked documents detailed a massive spy program involving global surveillance of phones, email and social-media communications — including those of world leaders and U.S. citizens.
The latest leaks divulged that the NSA is tracking billions of mobile phone locations worldwide and that the agency had infiltrated online gaming communities like World of Warcraft and Second Life, searching for criminal groups.