The “Free Edward Snowden” movement may reach the White House before the man responsible for leaking information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs has even been charged with a crime.
With nearly 20,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon, a White House petition is calling for President Barack Obama to pardon Edward Snowden — a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton and former CIA computer technician, who tipped off The Guardian about a number of NSA programs, including the gathering of the public’s phone records and Internet activity. The petition needs 100,000 signatures to trigger an official White House response.
The petition reads, in full: “Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a a [sic] full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs.”
Although Snowden has not yet been charged with any crime, the Justice Department said in a statement it was in the initial stages of an investigation into the leaks. It did not mention Snowden by name. But Snowden’s decision to hole up in a Hong Kong hotel showed some preemptive legal savvy. According to The Guardian, the territory has an extradition treaty with the U.S., but exceptions can be made for “crimes deemed to be political.” In a video revealing his identity, Snowden said he chose the location because “Hong Kong has a strong tradition of free speech.”
Still, he expressed fear at the number of ways he believed the U.S. government could come after him.
“I could be rendered by the CIA, I could have people come after me, or any of their third-party partners; they work closely with a number of other nations,” Snowden said. “Or they could pay off the Triads, or any of their agents or assets. We’ve got a CIA station just up the road in the consulate here in Hong Kong. I’m sure they’re going to be very busy for the next week. That’s a fear I’m going to live under for the rest of my life.”
Members of Iceland’s government have taken steps to offer Snowden political asylum, but the country’s ministry of the interior said it could not speculate on the government’s ultimate decision. The country does have a history of offering political asylum, most notably accepting former chess champion Bobby Fischer in 2005 after his U.S. passport was revoked. Ecuador and Venezuela have also been mentioned as possibilities. Embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently residing in Ecuador’s London embassy.
But Snowden summed up his feelings on the matter: “If they want to get you, they’ll get you in time.”