I have signed on to the letter asking President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden that was released today. I know this will be an unpopular position among many of my former colleagues in the national security community. My reasons for doing so are not fully captured by that letter. They are different from those who see Snowden simply as a hero and the NSA as the villain. I have concluded that a pardon for Edward Snowden, even if he does not personally deserve one, is in the broader interests of the nation.
Around the time Edward Snowden got his first job in the intelligence community, I decided to leave my position as an ACLU lawyer in the hope I could make a difference by going inside America’s growing surveillance state. Surprisingly, senior intelligence officials took a chance on hiring me in a unique new office safeguarding civil liberties and privacy. I began work in June 2006.
For the next seven years, I worked with a growing team of internal privacy watchdogs inside the intelligence community. We reviewed the most secret surveillance programs in government, including the major programs that Snowden later leaked. Our job was to ensure those programs had a firm basis in law and included protections for privacy and civil liberties. While I am proud of the work we did, it is fair to say that until Snowden stole a trove of top secret documents and gave them to reporters in 2013, we had limited success. It took a Snowden to spark meaningful change.
The NSA’s operations are essential to national security and to international stability, but it is hard to reconcile them with …