Revelations about the scope of the National Security Agency's monitoring programs prompted two federal judges to accuse the agency of violating the U.S. Constitution and led a presidential panel to issue a scathing indictment of the agency's invasion of privacy and call for a major overhaul of its operations, the commentary published Wednesday said.
"Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight," the commentary by the Times' editorial board said. "He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service."
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has been granted temporarily asylum in Russia, "on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder," the editorial said.
"It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community," the Times advocated.
Snowden has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property.
The editorial said Snowden's critics claim he did "profound damage" to U.S. intelligence operations but haven't presented the "slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation's security."
"When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government," the commentary concluded. "That's why Rick Ledgett, who leads the NSA's task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it's why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden's vilification and give him an incentive to return home."
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