The White House on Tuesday dismissed a two-years-old public petition asking for a pardon of former fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, saying in its response that the former National Security Agency contractor's disclosures were "dangerous" and had "had severe consequences for the security of our country."
The response to the "We the People" petition, which has accrued more than 167,000 signatures since it began in the days after Snowden's initial batch of leaks surfaced in June 2013, reinforces the Obama administration's public stance that Snowden is deserving of little leniency. The White House typically responds to "We the People" petitions that earn more than 100,000 signatures.
"Instead of constructively addressing these issues, Mr. Snowden's dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it," Lisa Monaco, the White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said in the written response.
Snowden has earned a cult following among civil-liberties advocates, who have long argued that his leaks were an act of conscience that should be celebrated, not condemned. But the administration and nearly all lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to insist Snowden's actions were unlawful, may have jeopardized national security, and that he could have sought internal means within the NSA to express his grievances about the scope of the government's surveillance apparatus.
"If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and—importantly—accept the consequences of his actions," Monaco said in Tuesday's response. "He should come home to the United States and be judged by a jury of his peers—not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he's running away from the consequences of his actions."
Earlier this month, former Attorney General Eric Holder suggested in an interview with Yahoo News that a "possibility exists" that Snowden could come home and face some sort of reduced sentence. But many politicians, especially Republicans, have said Snowden's actions were treasonous. Donald Trump, currently leading the GOP field in presidential polls, once suggested the computer analyst should be executed.
In her response, Monaco made reference to President Obama's efforts to expand civil liberties while maintaining security. Earlier this year, Obama signed into law the USA Freedom Act, which will effectively end the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. call data—the first and most controversial of the programs exposed by Snowden—in favor of a more limited regime.
"We live in a dangerous world," Monaco said. "We continue to face grave security threats like terrorism, cyberattacks, and nuclear proliferation that our intelligence community must have all the lawful tools it needs to address. The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate and those who are willing to engage in it here at home."
Snowden currently lives under asylum in Moscow, where he has been since fleeing Hong Kong following the first wave of revelations about the NSA's domestic and international surveillance powers. He faces charges under the Espionage Act and has insisted he would not earn a fair trial if he returned to the United States—though he has expressed a desire to come home at some point.
The Obama administration has brought charges against more people under the Espionage Act than all previous presidencies combined.