WASHINGTON — It’s the stuff of spy novels: The hunted-down protagonist wins in the end because he’s got damaging documents squirreled away, a bargaining chip against the bureaucrats who want to silence him.
If National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden thinks he’s living in such a thriller, legal experts say he’s got another think coming. Nothing he has is likely to scare off the prosecution.
Snowden, stuck at a Russian airport while he seeks asylum from several countries, has not overtly threatened the U.S. that he would release more damaging documents. But the journalist through whom he has been working, Glenn Greenwald, has said that blueprints that detail how the NSA operates will be made public if something should happen to Snowden.
“This is his insurance policy,” said Greenwald, a columnist with Britain’s Guardian newspaper who received Snowden’s initial leaks and who communicates with the former NSA systems analyst. In a July 13 article in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Greenwald said, “The U.S. government should be on its knees praying every day that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something does happen, all the information would be revealed and this would be its worst nightmare.”
The Justice Department is not discussing its prosecution strategy. But while the U.S. isn’t eager for any more classified information to be disclosed, there’s little chance Snowden will be able to use what he has as a bargaining chip to negotiate his prosecution or extradition. That’s because giving into threats would risk opening the door for others to take similar action in the future.