NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, according to the New York Times, sought the legal counsel of an attorney expert in criminal cases related to the 'U.S. Espionage Act,' under which the Justice Department has filed multiple charges against him.
"[Snowden] does not believe that the ‘felon’ label is the right word for someone whose act of conscience has revitalized democratic oversight of the intelligence community and is leading to historic reforms.” —Ben Wizner, ACLU attorney
Snowden, who remains in Russia where he lives under temporary asylum status, outraged the national security community in Washington, DC after disclosing a trove of internal National Security Agency documents that revealed the previously unknown scale of the U.S. surveillance apparatus that operates both domestically and across the globe.
Hailed as a 'courageous' whistleblower and hero by civil libertarians and transparency advocates worldwide, the U.S. government has continued to say it will prosecute Snowden to the fullest extent of the law if and when they can bring him into custody.
According to Times, Snowden sought legal counsel last year in order to combat charges by the government and possibly arrange a plea agreement by which he could return to the United States. The newspaper reports:
The lawyer, according to people familiar with the investigation, is Plato Cacheris, who has represented defendants in some of the highest-profile cases involving Espionage Act charges, including the convicted spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen and the convicted leaker Lawrence Franklin.
But nearly a year after Mr. Cacheris became involved, no agreement appears imminent, and government officials said the negotiations remained at an early stage.
The officials and others who discussed the case and Mr. Cacheris’s involvement in it spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks.
Mr. Snowden, who now lives in Moscow, where he received temporary asylum, was charged last year with multiple violations of the Espionage Act. He faces up to 30 years in prison, and prosecutors could easily add more counts.
In a phone call, Mr. Cacheris said only: “It’s not something that I want to discuss, so I have no comment.”
Earlier this month, the journalists who worked most closely with the documents provided by Snowden were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism.
Snowden's defenders say that without his disclosures, the public would still be in the dark about the surveillance programs that even President Obama—not to mention a federal court judge and numerous legal experts—determined likely go too far.
Quoted in the Times, Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU who is also acting counsel for Snowden, said his 30-year-old client "is interested in returning home.”
“[Snowden] is and always has been on America’s side," Wizner continued. "He would cooperate in extraordinary ways in the right circumstances. But he does not believe that the ‘felon’ label is the right word for someone whose act of conscience has revitalized democratic oversight of the intelligence community and is leading to historic reforms.”