Ed Snowden, whether he likes it or not, is entering the Julian Assange-phase of his notoriety. He is an internationally known figure, he has made his mark, governments have been left scrambling, he may even have spurred needed reforms within the US. Now Snowden wants to go home. But in order for him to go home, he needs assurances from the US government. So now the larger PR-game begins around Snowden. Two points here:
1) If Snowden is hurt, people will blame the US government. Particularly after the comments of the US figures in the BuzzFeed article. So it really is in the US interest not to harm him, even if they somehow had access to him.
2) Snowden’s observation on the Espionage Act are worth considering. If the US wants to put him on trial, they should bring charges that allow him to defend himself along public interest grounds. Currently, the Espionage Act doesn’t allow for that.
3) As for reading Snowden’s motives, it’s important to remember he is not a product of the Cold War, so his view of Russia would be different than many of the senior intelligence honchos who are left to evaluate his actions. For Snowden, Russia may be a geopolitical rival to the US, but only one of many. It is not the “Evil Empire” it remains in the minds of many older Americans who remember the historical Cold War. Snowden was 6 when the Berlin Wall came down and 8 when the Soviet Union broke up. I suppose now he’s getting a close-up view of what the Russian system has that would appeal to his libertarian principles. Nonetheless, his relative youth takes him out of the historical Cold War mindset that is common among many Americans evaluating the situation. That may be why he comes across as slightly naive to older Americans – because he has done something unthinkable to a people who grew up trained to fear and distrust the Soviets.
4) Snowden should go to trial in the US once charges are brought that allow him a public-interest defense. The reason is simple: he can’t claim to be loyal to constitutional principles and not welcome the idea of a fair trial. The same can be said for Assange. Sure, special circumstances call for special actions (leakers who expose wrongdoing by going outside ineffective protections). But the circumstances are never so special that a fair trial to determine is not appropriate. And from the nation-state perspective, a country like the US has every reason to find and bring Snowden to justice – bearing in mind that justice may be that he is set free. Otherwise, Snowden himself would be guilty of the kind of lawlessness he blames on the NSA.