NSA officials considering amnesty for Edward Snowden

But the State Department and the Justice Department are not on-board

Published December 16, 2013 7:45PM (EST)

NSA officials are debating offering Edward Snowden amnesty if he'll turn over his trove of stolen documents, according to a report from the Guardian. While the conversation is ongoing within the NSA, the State Department opposes such a move, and Justice Department officials — who would ultimately be responsible for amnestying Snowden — have as of yet not shared an opinion.

The prospect of a Snowden amnesty was brought up to Richard Ledgett, the official responsible for assessing the damage wrought by Snowden's revelations  during an interview for CBS' "60 Minutes." Ledgett noted that it was a controversial proposition within the NSA, but shared that he, personally, believed it to be "worth having a conversation about."

"I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high," Ledgett continued. "It would be more than just an assertion on his part.” Ledgett is under consideration to become the agency's top civilian.

More from the Guardian:

The NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, told CBS that granting Snowden amnesty would reward the leaks and potentially incentivize future ones. But Alexander is retiring in the spring, joining his civilian deputy John C Inglis, and Ledgett is rumored to be a top candidate to replace Inglis.

On Sunday, the State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Ledgett was stating a “personal view”.

“Our position has not changed,” Harf said. “Mr Snowden is facing very serious charges and should return to the United States to face them.”

Alexander’s predecessor at the NSA, retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, also rejected an amnesty for Snowden.

“I wouldn’t do it. That simply motivates future Snowdens,” said Hayden, who began the bulk collection of Americans’ phone and internet metadata in 2001 as a response to 9/11 that was initially unknown and unauthorized by Congress and the courts.

But Hayden also said that Snowden had kickstarted an important debate in the US about the appropriate balance between liberty and security.

“Snowden was important. He accelerated a debate, he misshaped the debate, but … the debate was coming,” Hayden said, on NBC.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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60 Minutes Edward Snowden Keith Alexander Michael Hayden Nsa Richard Ledgett