John Kerry calls Snowden leaks ‘act of civil disobedience’

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was engaging in an “act of civil disobedience” when he elected to collect, and then distribute, thousands of classified documents detailing clandestine domestic and foreign surveillance programs.

In a lengthy interview broadcast Thursday evening on the PBS NewsHour, Kerry reaffirmed his position that Snowden, who is currently holed up in Moscow, should return home to face felony charges under the World War I-era Espionage Act.

“He should prove his respect for that system,” Kerry said of Snowden. “He should do what many people who have taken issue with their own government do, which is challenge it, speak out, engage in an act of civil disobedience, but obviously accept the consequences of that act of civil disobedience, not find refuge in authoritarian Russia or seek asylum in Cuba or somewhere else. That’s running away from the consequences.”

It was the first time a current U.S. official acknowledged the Snowden leaks as an act of civil disobedience, albeit one that comes with consequences. The State Department has a history of endorsing acts of civil disobedience in foreign countries, including Ukraine, Egypt and Libya, though government officials often shy from encouraging similar action domestically.

Snowden has been residing in Russia under temporary political asylum since fleeing the United States last June. He was en route to Cuba from Hong Kong when his passport was revoked by U.S. officials. Despite his inability to travel, Kerry said on Wednesday he would arrange for a plane to pick up Snowden and bring him home should the whistleblower desire.

“If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today,” Kerry told NBC’s Today Show. “We’d be delighted for him to come back, and he should come back — that’s what a patriot would do. A patriot would not run away and look for refuge in Russia or Cuba or some other country.”

Officials have long said that Snowden could have sought other avenues to blow the whistle on secret surveillance programs, including raising concerns internally with NSA officials. Snowden asserts that he went to at least “ten distinct officials” before deciding to give thousands of classified documents to journalists.

“As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws,” Snowden testified before members of the European Parliament in March. “President Obama…reformed a key executive Whistleblower regulation with his 2012 Presidential Policy Directive 19, but it exempted Intelligence Community contractors such as myself. The result was that individuals like me were left with no proper channels.”

PBS NewsHour: Kerry says Snowden should come home from Russia