Last month, former US Attorney General Eric Holder hinted at the possibility of reaching a plea deal with Edward Snowden, wanted for his role in unveiling the massive scale of the NSA’s domestic spying apparatus.
"I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with," Holder said in an interview with Yahoo News. "I think the possibility exists."
In theory, an appeal would have lessened Snowden’s jail time in exchange for his cooperation in helping assess the leak’s damage to the intelligence community.
But according to senior officials speaking to Bloomberg, American interest in offering such a deal is shrinking fast, to the point that it’s extremely unlikely.
Those officials cite three major reasons for the change of heart. For one, the government feels more confident in its knowledge of what information, exactly, Snowden revealed. US intelligence agencies, quite simply, feel more certain that they already know the answers to key questions they would have asked Snowden.
Another reason deals with the security of Snowden’s information. Previously operating under the assumption that it needed Snowden’s help to prevent intel from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries, the government now assumes that intel has already been stolen by hackers.
"Many people in government believe that the journalists who received Snowden’s material are not capable of protecting it from a competent and committed state level adversary service," Ben Wittes, of the Brookings Institution, told Bloomberg.
"Even if Snowden did not give the material to others, they argue it would have been ripe for the picking."
Of course, using digital security as justification for refusing Snowden a plea bargain is an odd argument given the government’s own inability to secure its data. Recent high-profile hacks into the Office of Personnel Management and the Internal Revenue Service have shown just how inept the United States’ cybersecurity really is.
Lastly, officials feel emboldened by new suggestions that Snowden’s leaks have aided US adversaries in dodging US surveillance.
"Do I think we have lost capabilities we had prior to the revelations? Yes," NSA director Mike Rogers said in February.
Of course, neither Rogers nor any other US official has offered any evidence for the claim that Snowden’s actions harmed national security.
The about-face shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Even when Holder initially floated the idea of plea agreement, his comments received fierce backlash from more hawkish members in Washington, who have always considered Snowden’s whistleblowing an act of treason.
"I’m quite stunned that we would be considering any return of Snowden to this country other than to meet a jury of his peers, period," former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden told Yahoo News.
Current Attorney General Loretta Lynch has also dismissed Holder’s suggestion.
"[Snowden’s] status is what it has always been: He’s a federal fugitive. And if he chooses to come back, or if he is brought back, he will be accorded all the due process of every defendant in our criminal justice system," she told Bloomberg.
Even Snowden’s attorney, Ben Wizner, indicated that his client would refuse any plea deal which result in jail time on felony charges.
"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 told Yahoo.
Especially given the fact that Snowden currently enjoys life in Moscow, where he is free to continue exposing the abuses of the NSA. On Saturday, he released new documents to the New York Times which showed undeniable proof of collusion between the National Security Agency and tech giant AT&T.