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Diane Dimond: Grant Edward Snowden Amnesty and Get Him Back on U.S. Soil

As any member of organized crime will tell you, it is best to, "Keep your enemies close to you." Why no one in the Obama administration has latched onto that concept while contemplating the Edward Snowden NSA scandal is beyond me.

Snowden is, of course, the former National Security Agency computer analyst who fled the country with about 1.7 million classified documents proving that America has been involved in a massive telephone and Internet surveillance campaign.

Snowden has released some 200,000 documents so far, and the world has learned that the United States routinely scoops up the phone data and Internet traffic of millions of Americans who are not suspected of any crime. There are separate U.S. spying programs abroad with such tremendous reach that they have even targeted the personal cell phones and emails of heads of state. Two of the victims, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have asked the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate America's actions.

After the initial document dump, Snowden has been cooling his heels in Russia. Ironic, I think, that the man who declared America's surveillance programs violated human rights would land in a country with a far-worse record on the issue. The Russians took him in for a year only after he promised to temporarily stop releasing any more classified information.

After six months living in what is surely a 24/7 surveillance atmosphere, Snowden is indicating he's thinking about moving on. At least 20 countries have denied his asylum request, but he recently penned an open letter to the country of Brazil, perhaps hoping that its offended president might change her mind and approve his sanctuary request.

"American senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not 'surveillance,' it's 'data collection,'" Snowden wrote. "They say it is done to keep you safe. They're wrong. These programs were never about terrorism: They're about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power."

And Snowden made clear his determined mindset: "I will not be the one to ignore criminality for the sake of political comfort. I would rather be without a state than without a voice."

This makes Snowden, 30, a formidable foe. He doesn't care about his own fate. He is an ideologue whose only goal is to continue to reveal the contents of the remaining 1.5 million classified documents he took with him.

It's time to staunch the damaging flow of secret information. During this temporary hiatus in Snowden's revelations, it is time for the brain trust in Washington to come up with an amnesty package for Snowden and get him back on American soil.

Even the chief of the NSA's investigation into the scandal seems to agree. Richard Ledgett told 60 Minutes he is extremely worried about highly classified documents not yet made public and that amnesty for Snowden "is worth having a discussion about."

Naturally, there would have to be strict conditions such as securing the remainder of the secret documents and positively confirming there were no copies made.

This will be difficult because federal prosecutors have charged Snowden with several felony counts, including some under the Espionage Act. Any defense lawyer worth his or her salt would insist the charges be reduced or dropped before Snowden would consider returning. They may demand a presidential pardon or other far-reaching immunity. Maybe the feds could offer a protective custody deal in which Snowden remains under guard for a pre-determined period of time while details of the document recovery are worked through.

Another problem? Snowden surely won't want to keep silent. He craves a public discussion about what he sees as the illegal actions of U.S. intelligence agents. And if the feds are smart they will want to question him about how he achieved the theft of all those classified files. How about granting Snowden closed-door conversations with select members of Congress? Lawmakers who have felt lied to by NSA officials would jump at the chance to question the man.

Yes, Snowden would ultimately be allowed to walk free but isn't that the price we should pay for recovery of America's most top-secret information?

There have been terrible miscalculations made about Snowden. He has proven he is smarter and craftier than our entire intelligence community. He quietly conceived and then carried out his plan; he deftly escaped the reach of American law enforcement and expertly began to reveal what he had learned through pre-selected media. Snowden has engineered a protective sphere around himself designed to help him release more of the incriminating information he took with him. It is safe to assume he has deposited computer drives containing the documents somewhere assessable to friendly reporters.

Some view Snowden as the ultimate traitor, someone never to be negotiated with. Others see him as a selfless patriot who was compelled by his conscience to reveal the unconstitutional actions of his government. Indeed, a federal judge recently ruled that the NSA's daily habit of collecting virtually every American's phone records is likely unconstitutional. In 2010, another federal judge ruled the NSA's warrantless wiretaps were illegal.

I say it's time to do something other than wait for Snowden to come in out of the cold.

America is strong enough to withstand past bad deeds. We have re-examined sanctioned actions such as slavery and World War II Japanese internment camps and we've come out stronger on the other side of the discussions.

If Washington played it right, granting Snowden amnesty and engaging in an open dialogue about what has occurred could be used as an incredibly poignant mea culpa to the rest of the world.

There are only two alternatives here. Either allow Snowden to remain at large, free to release more of America's secrets, or grant him amnesty.

I vote for the "keep your enemies close to you" solution.

Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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