Justice Charges Signal Maximum Sentence for SnowdenToday in Skye's Spies, practically every news outlet in the world is reporting that the Justice Department has officially (and FINALLY) filed espionage charges against Eric Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked classified documents to the press on a Top Secret program. The charges were filed in a sealed criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Justice's charges include unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information--both of which fall under the espionage act--and theft of government property. All three crimes carry a maximum 10-year prison penalty.
I for one couldn't be more thrilled that plans for his extradition are moving forward. And I truly believe the arrogant and highly public way he's gone about leaking the information is JUST about to come back and bite him in his ass.
First, I think Snowden is going to be hard-pressed to find any country willing to expend political or economic capital to harbor him. You would risk the welfare of your own people to harbor a U.S. traitor? No. I don't think so. The United States expends $50 billion in foreign aid each year, dispersed to nearly every country in the world, including Hong Kong and China. I can't see the Chinese risking anything for him. The only way, I believe, they would accept him is if he committed the ultimate betrayal and provided them with information on NSA systems.
Even if Snowden's defense attempted to justify "political" reasons for seeking asylum, theft and unauthorized disclosure are criminal offenses. The charges are two-parts criminal, on part "political." I think the United States could make a strong argument.
[News Update: A Huffington Post report indicates Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow. Apparently Hong Kong wanted to rid itself of the headache called Snowden and allowed him to board a flight to Russia. And so many thought he wasn't a traitor. Isn't that something? His plan is obviously to skip through countries with no extradition treaties until he lands in Venezuela, and he's apparently got some crafty help with the WikiLeaks support team. While this certainly complicates efforts to interdict him, nothing's impossible. It's just going to take a little longer and a little more planning. His days are numbered and the rest of my assessment holds true.]
Secondly, the manner in which the charges were filed suggests the Justice Department plans to seek the maximum sentence on all charges--and the odds of successful prosecution are HIGHLY in their favor. First, Snowden has fully admitted to the crime to the WORLD, freely and without duress. He not only admitted it, he's proud of it and continues with each interview to engage in activity that only deepens the harm he's already done. Moreover, Snowden is completely unremorseful about the damage he's done to the United States, arrogantly so, even if he is regretful about the impact on his family and girlfriend.
So, in the event that he is extradited, how will he plea bargain? Not on the basis of remorse or regret. He's shown no signs of that.
The other bargaining chip the defense usually leverages is that, in exchange for keeping the Top Secret documents out of discovery (and the press), the defendant would agree to a lesser charge and shorter sentence. Well, Snowden has already given the documents to the press and the contents have been widely reported in the media. The Justice Department as NO FEAR of taking this case to court. The documents he's already disclosed and his own admissions are enough to get a successful conviction--and his lack of remorse will ensure that they seek the maximum penalty.
The most compelling support for my analysis comes from the fact that, having worked at the FBI, they usually collect as much evidence as possible to stack the charges. Based on current reports, they didn't do that in this case. I believe that's because they know they didn't need to. They didn't need to risk revealing any other classified documents in discovery because they knew these charges would stick without negotiation.
With a maximum sentence all three charges, he will serve as much time as any spy.
That means 30 years in prison for Mr. Snowden--unless he plea bargains a lesser charge/sentence and turns himself into authorities. I guess that means I have to redact my previous "worst spy ever" charges. The charges don't support that. He's just your run of the mill traitor.
Hmmm, I wonder if the NSA monitors prison communications. Naaah...poetic justice would be too much to ask.
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