Meet the Press   |  December 29, 2013

2: Edward Snowden’s legal adviser discusses latest developments

The ACLU’s Ben Wizner discusses whether Snowden is looking for an amnesty deal and the latest developments surrounding the former NSA contractor.

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>>> president obama and the u.s. intelligence world were rocked this year by the leaks from edward snowden . here's this week's front page of the " washington post ." snowden was interviewed for hours by barbara gellerman and he said, quote, the mission is already accomplished, i already won. the questions remain for key plans in 2014 . snowden 's key adviser in the united states ben wizner joins me now. ben, good to meet you.

>> good to be here.

>> what happens legally when he says, mr. snowden , i've already won. there was a ruling in the u.s. district court that concluded t

the following: no doubt the bulk telephoney met adata collection program vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from or within the governments counter punch. the cost of missing such a threat could be horrific. the bulk telephone metadata is to reconstruct and eliminate al qaeda 's terror network. so here's a district court judge disagreeing with another district court judge . if it's going to go to the supreme court , the u.s. court of appeals has to do something. is this where it's headed?

>> it is, but let me say this district judge is not just agreeing with another district judge, he's also disagreeing with a panel that included a former counterterrorism adviser concluded they had seen no evidence that the bulk telephone metadata program had been uniquely successful had stopped any kind of attacks. so there is a dispute about whether this is effective or even legal. but yes, i think we always expected that there would be differences of opinion in the lower courts. there is no question that it's time for the supreme court to weigh in and to see whether, as we believe, the nsa allowed its technological capabilities to outpace democratic control.

>> one of the key claims is this is an abusive program. this is an abuse of government authority . i can understand the argument that there is the potential for abuse by this kind of bulk collection. what is the actual abuse that's occurred?

>> well, this is a general warrant . this is what the framers of the constitution were worried about when they said that the government needed to have individualized suspicion before it collected records from the american people . what the nsa has done is they flipped that on its head. they said, we're going to collect everything now because we can and we think it will be relevant to some investigation in the future.

>> the supreme court said that was okay. your data between you calling someone else , just the data, not the content, that that's not private.

>> the supreme court said that was right about one person, not all people. the nsa is collecting the telephone records of every american. but i want to go back to that " washington post " headline where mr. snowden said, i won and mission accomplished . he didn't mean that the mission was accomplished. what he meant was that what he had set out to do was to bring the american public into the conversation, to bring open federal courts into the conversation, to bring the whole congress into the conversation. he did his part. it's now up to the public and our institutional oversight to decide how to respond.

>> this is the act of civil disobede yens. the question is, why doesn't he come back and face the music , face charges? here's the president speaking in august of this year.

>> so the fact is that mr. snowden has been charged with three felonies. if, in fact, he believes that what he did was right, then like every american citizen , he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer, and make his case.

>> would he do that? under what circumstances would he do it?

>> here's the problem with that. the law under which mr. snowden is charged, the 1917 espionage act , a world war i statute, doesn't distinguish between leaks to the press and public interest . and i think we can all agree that some of this information has been profoundly in the public interest and someone who sells secrets to the enemy for personal profit. in fact, the judge has argued in certain cases that it's a worse violation to legal to the press than to the enemies because all gets to see it.

>> he took an oath not to disclose classified information ?

>> he certainly signed the same agreement that everybody else signs, but his oath is to the constitution. if the law allowed him to make a public interest defense, if the law allowed him to say, look how much good this has done, if the law would say there are no other disclosures, sure, he could do that. but he doesn't believe and i don't believe that it should mean a life behind bars .

>> how are you in touch?

>> we're in touch through encrypted channels.

>> would he come back to the united states ?

>> sure, he hopes to come back to the united states .

>> would we give him some deal, some amnesty?

>> we don't really call it amnesty. lying to congress is a crime. torturing prisoners is a very serious crime. there are lots of times when people violate the law and society decides for one way or another to look forward instead of backwards. mr. snowden 's disclosures had been profoundly valuable to the country and the world. they've really changed the whole debate here, and i think there is much the united states could gain through conversation with him.

>> i understand your point of view, and i wonder if you could understand those who believe that here is mr. snowden who has great faith in the american constitution who is in exile in russia , a country that does not have faith in our constitution or in the freedoms that it affords.

>> absolutely, and i actually think if there is one thing we all should agree on, it's that edward snowden shouldn't be in russia . the reason he's in russia is the united states revoked his passport as he was trans iting through there. and i open the u.s. sees it's in no one's best interest for him to be there, and if he transfers here, there should be somewhere he can live.

>> what should we expect in 2014 ?

>> there's a possibility he will emerge a little bit. people have been trying to get interviews with him, people have been trying to get book deals and movie deals. he prefers to stay out of the limelight, but i think he would like to engage more in the public debate .

>>> coming up here, the u.s. and the world. how has president obama handled america's foreign policy , from syria to chemical weapons to the controversial nuclear agreement with iran. the roundtable