In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked tens of thousands of documents from the National Security Agency. He's been on the run ever since, and for good reason. The leaks made Snowden a wanted man in America, where he faces at least 30 years in jail for violating the Espionage Act.
While Snowden and his supporters have asked for his pardon for years, Snowden is ramping up his case again and has requested President Barack Obama pardon him before he leaves office in January. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Snowden argued that disclosing the scale of surveillance by the government was "not only morally right but had left citizens better off."
He made his case by saying, "I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [US] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result."
He continued, "If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off."
Even Obama's former attorney general Eric Holder said in May that Snowden "actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made."
Snowden's not alone in his mission: This week, the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International are launching a "Pardon Snowden" campaign. The ACLU has previously called Snowden "a great American who deserves clemency for his patriotic acts," and Amnesty International has praised him for exposing the government's "indiscriminate mass surveillance of communications."
The push for a pardon coincides with the release of director Oliver Stone's biopic Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the whistleblower.
This weekend at the Toronto film festival, the director told reporters, "Mr. Obama could pardon him and we hope so." Stone added, "We hope that Mr. Obama has a stroke of lightning and he sees the way, despite the fact that he’s prosecuted vigorously eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, which is an all-time record in American history, [and he’s created] the most extensive invasive surveillance state that ever existed." He added, "So rationally it doesn't figure [a pardon is possible], but we hope, we hope [for a pardon]."
Gordon-Levitt, who met with Snowden in Russia for the movie, said of Snowden's request, "He would like to come home."
In the end, however, Obama will likely refuse to pardon Snowden, as he's done before. As recently as Monday, the White House reiterated Obama's position that Snowden's leaks "damaged the United States" and that he should face charges in America.