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Snowden's remaining docs unlikely to tie U.S. hands

By Eileen Sullivan

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 10:53 a.m. HST, Jul 26, 2013


WASHINGTON » It's the stuff of spy novels: The hunted-down protagonist wins in the end because he's got damaging documents squirreled away, a bargaining chip against the bureaucrats who want to silence him.

If National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden thinks he's living in such a thriller, legal experts say he ought to think again. Nothing he has is likely to scare off the prosecution.

Snowden, stuck at a Russian airport while he seeks asylum from several countries, has not overtly threatened the U.S. that he would release more damaging documents. But the journalist through whom he has been working, Glenn Greenwald, has said that blueprints that detail how the NSA operates will be made public if something should happen to Snowden.

"This is his insurance policy," said Greenwald, a columnist with Britain's Guardian newspaper who received Snowden's initial leaks and who communicates with the former NSA systems analyst. In a July 13 article in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Greenwald said, "The U.S. government should be on its knees praying every day that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something does happen, all the information would be revealed and this would be its worst nightmare."

The Justice Department is not discussing its prosecution strategy, though Attorney General Eric Holder has said the U.S. has no plans to seek the death penalty as it pursues criminal charges against Snowden. Holder made the comments in a letter to the Russian government dated Tuesday.

While the U.S. isn't eager for any more classified information to be disclosed, there's little chance Snowden will be able to use what he has as a bargaining chip to negotiate his prosecution or extradition. That's because giving into threats would risk opening the door for others to take similar action in the future.

The government must take the position: "We don't negotiate with extortionists," said Michael Chertoff, the former head of the Justice Department's criminal division and former secretary of homeland security. Chertoff said he can't recall a case in which the U.S. government has caved under this type of threat.

"I'm betting that there is virtually nothing that Snowden could do or threaten to persuade the (U.S. government) not to prosecute," said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who was on the team that prosecuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Bush administration official who revealed the name of a CIA officer. Zeidenberg said doing so would send a damaging message from the U.S.: "If you are going to steal secrets, get the crown jewels; that way, the government will never dare to prosecute."

Snowden leaked details of two top secret U.S. surveillance programs. He has been charged with three offenses, including espionage, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that if Snowden releases any more of the materials, Russia will not grant him temporary asylum.

"If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response," Snowden said in a June 17 online question-and-answer forum.

"Snowden has information enough to cause more damage to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had in the history of the United States," Greenwald said in the article in La Nacion.

Mark Zaid, an attorney who has represented people charged with espionage, said these threats from Snowden and Greenwald are a form of graymail, a tactic in which defendants charged with spying try to force the government to drop the charges by threatening to expose U.S. secrets on the witness stand.

Zaid said every time Snowden releases more documents it could create additional criminal charges. Zaid is not working on Snowden's defense and hasn't been contacted by the leaker. But if he were representing Snowden, Zaid said, "I'd tell him to shut up" and accept the marriage proposal from Russian spy Anna Chapman. On July 3, the attractive redhead who was swept up with nine other sleeper agents and deported from the U.S. in 2010 tweeted, "Snowden, will you marry me?"

"The only thing really he's got now is either minimize the penalties going forward or work out some favorable resolution he's comfortable with somewhere in the world," Zaid said of Snowden.

And even then, it would be difficult for the U.S. government to negotiate, he said.

"Because it's not just about Snowden anymore," Zaid said. "It's about anyone who would follow in his footsteps."

Graymail is a common defense tactic, and three decades ago a law was passed to combat it. Attorneys say the law was meant to let judges sort out the classified information behind closed doors and determine what the defense genuinely needs to make public. If the judge concludes the defendant cannot get a fair trial without spilling secrets, the government can decide whether to go forward or drop the case.

But Snowden has yet to enter into court proceedings. The government is in the process of trying to extradite him to face the charges.

U.S. officials have said what Snowden already released will harm national security, though it's too early to tell what damage has been done. The U.S. intelligence community has a good idea of what other documents he has.

"I wouldn't describe it as graymail," Chertoff said. "I would describe it as blackmail."

As Chertoff sees it, Snowden's message to the government is this: "If you do anything that Snowden doesn't like, he's going to try to hurt you by putting out information that could be damaging."

"To me, that's extortion," Chertoff said.

When Snowden arrived at Moscow's international airport on June 23 he was believed to be planning simply to transfer to a flight to Cuba and then to Venezuela to seek asylum. But the U. S. canceled his passport, stranding him. He hasn't been seen in public since, although he met with human rights activists and lawyers on July 12. He's applied for temporary asylum in Russia and has said he'd like to visit the countries that offered him permanent asylum — Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Associated Press writers Michael Warren in Buenos Aires and Pete Yost in Washington and researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.







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Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
Good old Holder and Obama. They don't have time to address the scandals within their own administration, so-called "sideshows" and "distractions" (Obama's words), but they have time to insert themselves into the Trayvon Martin case. This latest gem from Holder has me wondering, just WHO does Holder represent? If any treason case ever cried out for the death penalty, Snowden (and Manning) would certainly be at the top of the list. The CIA needs to put a bounty on Snowden's head, Dead or Alive, since Holder is incapable of upholding our laws without reservation. Weak. Very weak. Meanwhile, the U.S. is being made a laughing stock worldwide.
on July 26,2013 | 06:07AM
RichardCory wrote:
"Meanwhile, the U.S. is being made a laughing stock worldwide." As it should be. The disgraceful treatment of heroes like Snowden and Manning is evidence of this. These men sacrificed themselves to expose blatant abuses of power by corrupted governmental officials. Do you think it's appropriate that the military should be able to brush unjustifiable civilian deaths under the rug? Did you think it was appropriate when you saw the leaked video of Apache helicopters indiscriminately mowing down rescuers, journalists, and children in the streets of Iraq? Because that is precisely the sort of misconduct exposed by Wikileaks via Manning in their Collateral Murder video. Watch it and see for yourself what disgusting behavior your tax dollars funded. Anyone who thinks that sort of activity should have been kept from the public eye clearly has misplaced priorities. We should and do have the right to know what forms of abuse our government perpetrates against others, and Snowden and Manning are patriots in the truest sense for letting the American people see that.
on July 26,2013 | 06:30AM
cojef wrote:
A hero would have made the disclosures thus far exposed, in the US and took the consequences without possibilities of foreign powers obtaining intelligence data that we solely possess. Without having knowledge as to the extent of damage he may have exposed, the question as to whether he merits a hero's accolades, is questionable. The actions he took appears to be infantile. A hero would have taken the path ala "the Pentagon papers" without exposing the secrets he claim to have on his laptops (4). Also, once the Russian gets hold of him physically, they have sophisticated means to extract information from him and the laptops that would pose grave danger to US. Yes, we are being made the laughing stock, at whose expense, Snowden's childish and whimsical pursuits in a foreign land? Be a man, unfraid of the consequences, prepared and ready give to give up one's freedom, for what he believes Our Government is doing. Acts of heroism are spontaneously accomplished without regard of considered consequences. He fled his own Country to "whistleblow" his grievances. Cowardice, could be, can't make that judgement?
on July 26,2013 | 08:15AM
leoscott wrote:
Yes passport only good for return flight. Now if the United States will drop the charges then yes Snowden will withdraw his asylum request and return home as a hero.
on July 26,2013 | 06:56AM
noheawilli wrote:
Forget Snowden, he's out of reach but we can charge the politicians that approved of these violations to our natural rights. Lets go after the real criminals.
on July 26,2013 | 07:22AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
It was my understanding that his leaks have put American lives at risk. Oh how we need the "greatest generation" to provide some influence over these kids who are trying to run our government.
on July 26,2013 | 08:10AM
Aieagrl wrote:
Geez. Talking about death penalty for Snowden because of the one little thing he did. I wonder what would be just for our Government for all the crimes they have committed.
on July 26,2013 | 09:28AM
sloturle wrote:
Absolutely nothing.
on July 26,2013 | 09:52AM
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