Washington (AFP) – The White House Monday renewed its demand for Edward Snowden to return home to face trial, after a top spy official floated the idea of an amnesty deal to plug his damaging intelligence leaks.
The fate of fugitive contractor Snowden, currently in temporary asylum in Russia, is under fresh scrutiny after a National Security Agency official said he would personally consider a deal with Snowden if he stopped exposing US secrets.
“Our position has not changed on that matter at all,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“Mr Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges here in the United States.
“He should be returned to the United States.”
Rick Ledgett, who heads the NSA’s task force investigating the damage from the Snowden leaks, told CBS television’s 60 Minutes program that it was worth talking about the possibility of an amnesty deal for Snowden, such is the rolling damage caused by his revelations.
He caveated his remarks on the show on Sunday, however, by saying that not all of his colleagues shared his view and that he would set a “high bar” in return for dropping criminal charges against Snowden.
Carney, however, noted that Ledgett was airing his “personal” view and the idea of amnesty for Snowden was rejected by NSA chief General Keith Alexander in the same program.
“This is analogous to a hostage-taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10 and then say ‘You give me full amnesty and I’ll let the other 40 go,'” Alexander told 60 Minutes.
Alexander also said an amnesty deal would set a dangerous precedent for any future leakers.
Snowden, a former intelligence contractor for the NSA, has been charged with espionage by U.S. authorities for divulging reams of secret files in leaks to several prominent newspapers which have angered U.S. allies and embarrassed the White House.
He says that he took the action to expose the sweeping threat to privacy of covert U.S. intelligence data mining and telephone and Internet surveillance.
Snowden reportedly stole 1.7 million classified documents.
Carney said Washington is continuing to press Russia for Snowden’s return and that questions on his fate rested with the Justice Department and not the NSA.