NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden should be credited with helping change U.S. surveillance law, Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said Monday in an interview with The Guardian.
"It's interesting to see that the first time... this mass surveillance that's been going on is subjected to a genuine debate, it didn't stand up," he said.
Ellsberg was charged under the Espionage Act for disclosing secret U.S. military documents related to the Vietnam War in 1971. Snowden, who leaked a trove of classified NSA documents in 2013 and has been living in political asylum in Russia for the past three years, also faces prosecution under the Espionage Act.
Asked what should happen to Snowden, Ellsberg replied, "He should get the Nobel peace prize and he should get asylum in a west European country."
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Although "there is much more support for him month by month as people come to realise how little substance in the charges that he caused harm to us...that does not mean the intelligence community will ever forgive him for having exposed what they were doing," Ellsberg continued.
Ellsberg is currently on a week-long European speaking tour with several other renowned U.S. whistleblowers, including Thomas Drake, who helped expose fraud and abuse in the NSA's Trailblazer program; Coleen Rowley, who testified about the FBI's mishandling of information related to the September 11 attacks; and Jesselyn Radack, who disclosed ethics violations committed by the FBI and currently serves as the director of National Security & Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project.
Although the sunset of the Patriot Act on Sunday has forced the NSA to end its domestic phone records collection program, the agency will likely retain much of its surveillance power with the expected passage of the USA Freedom Act, a "compromise" bill which would renew modified versions of Section 215 and other provisions.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the NSA's bulk phone records collection program "exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized" under the Patriot Act. Referring to that decision, Ellsberg said Monday that "even the USA Freedom Act, which is better than the Patriot Act, still doesn't really reflect the full weight of the circuit court opinion that these provisions have been unconstitutional from their beginning and what the government has been doing is illegal."
Drake also spoke to The Guardian on Monday, stating, "This is the first time in almost 14 years that we stopped certain provisions... The national security mindset was unable to prevail."
The USA Freedom Act, meanwhile, "effectively codifies all the secret interpretations, a lot of the other authorities they claimed were enabled by the previous legislation, including the Patriot Act," Drake continued.
In a press briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that despite the sunset of the Patriot Act, the Obama administration would not change its view that Snowden "committed very serious crimes."
But the importance of the Senate's rejection of the legislation cannot be discounted, said Ellsberg, and Snowden's influence on the changing political landscape in the U.S. deserves credit.
"This is the first time, thanks to Snowden, that the Senate really stood up and realized they have been complicit in the violation of our rights all along—unconstitutional action," Ellsberg said. "The Senate and the House have been passive up until now and derelict in their responsibilities. At last there was opposition."