One NSA leader—the man in charge of the investigation into what Snowden stole—said he would, in fact, be willing to consider such a deal. But his boss, NSA director Keith Alexander, said he wouldn’t. Apart from the issue that getting an assurance that no one else had copies of the material would seem next to impossible, Alexander told Miller that agreeing to such a deal would be the equivalent of allowing a bank robber who takes 50 hostages and kills 10 to go free for promising not to kill the other 40.

Alexander also made the point that if Snowden were allowed to go free, future Snowdens would be encouraged to try the same thing.

That’s all true. But what about all the damage the disclosure of the rest of Snowden’s stolen secrets might cause? Both officials conceded to Miller that Snowden’s loot would give Russia, China, and other potential enemies a mother lode of information about what we know and how we know it, as well as what we don’t know, all of which would make the US much more vulnerable in any cyber- or armed confrontation.

So whether to attempt an amnesty deal with Snowden is a fascinating dilemma that I’d like to hear many more people weigh in on.

With editors like Tina Brown now going into the live events business (because, as Brown was recently quoted as declaring, “I think you can have more satisfaction with live conversations”) someone ought to put this one up for public debate among intelligence experts and political leaders.

3. What can national security whistleblowers do?

The main argument Snowden has used to defend his leaks of information he promised to keep secret was that he had no choice — that he was forced to reveal what he believes to be NSA misconduct and overreaching the way he did because there are no avenues open to whistleblowers involved in national security work to use internal channels to expose and stop wrongdoing.

Angry officials at the intelligence agencies and even some members of Congress on the intelligence committees (such as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein) have pushed back. They have argued that, of course, Snowden could have come forward without endangering his career, and that his revelations would have been considered seriously had he gone through the proper channels.

Yet I still haven’t seen a definitive story on what those proper channels are. What steps can someone like Snowden take to reveal what he thinks is dirty laundry if it’s all top secret? We now know that some members of Congress themselves, such as Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, have complained that they could not speak out about, let alone do anything about, overreaching by the security community after they were briefed in secret by those arguably doing the overreaching.

So, if members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence community were paralyzed, what could Snowden have done? Who could he have gone to if he thought it made no sense to tap German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, or that the NSA’s routine sweep of our emails and phone calls was wrong?

 

Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.