A top US intelligence official informally floated the idea of potentially offering Edward Snowden a specific plea bargain to return home, Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News reports.
Isikoff, citing three "sources familiar with informal discussions of Snowden's case," writes that the chief counsel to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Robert Litt, "recently privately floated the idea that the government might be open to" the former NSA contractor returning to the US, pleading guilty to one felony count, and receiving a prison sentence of three to five years "in exchange for full cooperation with the government."
Snowden, who has lived in Russia since June 23, 2013, is charged with three felonies: Theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.
ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner, one of Snowden's legal advisers, told Yahoo that any deal involving a felony sentence and prison time would be rejected.
"Our position is he should not be reporting to prison as a felon and losing his civil rights as a result of his act of conscience," Wizner said.
Snowden, 32, allegedly stole up to 1.77 million NSA documents while working at two consecutive jobs for US government contractors in Hawaii between March 2012 and May 2013.
The US government believes Snowden gave about 200,000 "tier 1 and 2" documents detailing the NSA's global surveillance apparatus to American journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in early June 2013. Reports based on the disclosures have swayed courts in the US and influenced public opinion around the world.
Snowden also provided an unknown number of documents to the South China Morning Post, adding that he possessed more.
"If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published," Snowden told Lana Lam of SCMP on June 12, 2013, 11 days before flying to Moscow.
The US intelligence community believes that Snowden also took up to 1.5 million "tier 3" documents, including 900,000 Department of Defense files and documents detailing NSA offensive cyber operations, the fate of which are unclear.
Snowden reportedly told James Risen of The New York Times over encrypted chat in October 2013 that the former CIA technician "gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong." (Wizner subsequently told Business Insider that the report was inaccurate.)
Snowden would later tell NBC that he "destroyed" all documents in his possession before he spoke with the Russians in Hong Kong.
"The best way to make sure that for example the Russians can't break my fingers and — and compromise information or — or hit me with a bag of money until I give them something was not to have it at all," he told Brian Williams of NBC in Moscow in May 2014. "And the way to do that was by destroying the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia."
In any case, some current and former officials are considering ways to bring the American home.
"I think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with," Former Attorney General Eric Holder told Yahoo. "I think the possibility exists."
More from Business Insider:
- Hacked security company's documents show a laundry list of questionable clients
- The world's most popular gun debuted 68 years ago today
- REPORT: An Iranian agent was caught planning terrorist attacks in Jordan
- Senior US official: It feels 'weird' to be defending Iran so much
- Iran's nuclear program may have cost the country $500 billion or more