I generally don’t like stories about Snowden as a person, because they distract from the real story of the NSA surveillance programs, but this article on the costs and benefits of the US government prosecuting Edward Snowden is worth reading.
Additional concerns relate to the trial. Snowden would no doubt obtain high-powered lawyers. Protesters would ring the courthouse. Journalists would camp out inside. As proceedings dragged on for months, the spotlight would remain on the N.S.A.’s spying and the administration’s pursuit of leakers. Instead of fading into obscurity, the Snowden affair would continue to grab headlines, and thus to undermine the White House’s ability to shape political discourse.
A trial could turn out to be much more than a distraction: It could be a focal point for domestic and international outrage. From the executive branch’s institutional perspective, the greatest danger posed by the Snowden case is not to any particular program. It is to the credibility of the secrecy system, and at one remove the ideal of our government as a force for good.
More broadly, Snowden’s case may clash with certain foreign policy goals. The United States often wants other countries’ dissidents to be able to find refuge abroad; this is a longstanding plank of its human rights agenda. The United States also wants illiberal regimes to tolerate online expression that challenges their authority; this is the core of its developing Internet freedom agenda.
Snowden’s prosecution may limit our soft power to lead and persuade in these areas. Of course, U.S. officials could emphasize that Snowden is different, that he’s not a courageous activist but a reckless criminal. But that is what the repressive governments say about their prisoners, too.
EDITED TO ADD (7/22): Related is this article on whether Snowden can manage to avoid arrest. Here’s the ending:
Speaking of movies, near the end of the hit film “Catch Me If You Can,” there’s a scene that Snowden might do well to watch while he’s killing time in the airport lounge (or wherever he is) pondering his fate. The young forger, Frank Abagnale, who has been staying a step ahead of the feds, finally grows irritated and fatigued. Not because they are particularly skilled in their hunting, nor because they are getting closer, but simply because they won’t give up. In a fit of pique, he blurts into the phone, “Stop chasing me!” On the other end, the dogged, bureaucratic Treasury agent, Carl Hanratty, answers, “I can’t stop. It’s my job.”
Ultimately, this is why many people who have been involved in such matters believe Snowden will be caught. Because no matter how much he may love sticking it to the U.S. government and waving the banner of truth, justice, and freedom of speech, that mission will prove largely unsustainable without serious fundraisers, organizers and dedicated allies working on his behalf for a long time.
They’ll have to make Edward Snowden their living, because those who are chasing him already have. Government agents will be paid every minute of every day for as long as it takes. Seasons may change and years may pass, but the odds say that one morning, he’ll look out of a window, go for a walk or stop for a cup of coffee, and the trap will spring shut. It will be almost like a movie.