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Holding the Government Accountable

In Snowden’s Wake: New Book Examines Needed Intelligence Reforms

Depending on whom you ask, Edward Snowden is either a traitor to his country or a hero who exposed a government security state run amok. Regardless of how you view the former intelligence contractor, Ronald Goldfarb’s anthology After Snowden: Privacy, Secrecy, and Security in the Information Age shows that Snowden’s revelations have forever altered America’s political landscape. Each author in After Snowden presents a compelling case for reforms that balance personal privacy and national security.

Goldfarb started his career at Syracuse University when he was only 16 and became one of the youngest people ever admitted to the New York Bar. After leaving the Air Force JAG, he helped expose the mafia’s involvement in the Teamsters Union as part of U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s storied Justice Department. Kennedy then hired him as a speech writer on his successful 1964 Senate campaign.

After the campaign, he successfully argued before the Supreme Court as a private attorney in U.S. v. Harris, further solidifying Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Outside the courtroom, he continued his work on public interest issues such as prison reform. Goldfarb, himself, has written 11 books on subjects ranging from criminal justice to attorney-client privilege. Currently, he owns and operates Goldfarb & Associates and MainStreet Media.

He recently took time to talk about After Snowden, as well as Snowden’s effect on America’s privacy debate.

POGO: You’ve pulled together an impressive list of contributors for After Snowden. The chapters cover a very broad range of issues that arose from Snowden’s disclosures. If you were to add a new chapter based on any new information or evolving thought since the book went to the publisher, what would it be?

Ronald Goldfarb: The subjects I included remain the right mix, I believe. The chapters on whistleblowing and on judicial review offer clear and specific routes to reform. Other chapters – on the press, leaks, privacy, and classification of government records - define wise general policy changes to guide balanced reforms. Perhaps a chapter on the international impact of Snowden’s revelations would be interesting, since Snowden has been hailed a hero and been honored in several countries and he has raised international consciousness about privacy in the digital age.

POGO: The recent amendments to the Patriot Act brought some reforms to bulk collection of data and the FISA court, among other things. It’s safe to say that none of that would have happened without Snowden’s disclosures. What effect will this movement toward reform have on whether Snowden can reach an eventual plea deal?

Goldfarb: The pendulum is swinging from the initial widespread disdain over what Snowden did in the more recent direction of sympathy toward what Snowden accomplished. Recent polls confirm that. Unless there is another terrorist act directly damaging Americans on our soil, I expect that pendulum of public attitudes will continue moving perceptively, if slowly, in Snowden’s direction. If he returns to the U.S. and is judged in our federal courts, the evidence for and against Snowden will affect the public’s perceptions of him and his actions in the future. His best chance for a successful return to the U.S. will be after the 2016 election and before President Obama leaves office. That might be a time for some act of clemency, if there is to be one.

POGO: The USA Freedom Act was recently passed by Congress to amend the Patriot Act. Each of the authors in your book proposes specific reforms. If you could choose one of these reforms and add it to the USA Freedom Act which would it be?

Goldfarb: I can’t keep my answer to one. Moving all cases to the traditional federal courts, except in the rarest cases, and assuring that in those exceptional cases, defense counsel are present. Following Professor Siegel’s recommendations that federal courts act independently and adjudge the validity of government claims of national security is one reform that would be simple to adopt. Professor Wasserman’s recommendations regarding reformed whistleblower procedures are important, too. The employment of the criminal indictment for espionage needs to be reviewed and reserved for appropriate cases where enemies of our state (not the American press) are conspired with by Americans with the intent to damage American security.

POGO: You've stated that it is important for Snowden to come home and have a fair and public trial. Snowden has received an overwhelming amount of negative press coverage. Drawing on your experience as a prosecutor, what would be necessary to ensure this trial was in fact fair?

Goldfarb: As a prosecutor I would require that Snowden plead guilty to lesser crimes than espionage, and that the government be allowed to present evidence of the concrete damage his disclosures caused, and that he take all steps within his control to identify and return what property he misappropriated. I would also permit Snowden to present his evidence in open court demonstrating what his actions have contributed to the public’s interest (as the Constitution provides in criminal cases.)

POGO:After Snowden examines Snowden’s actions and the consequences in fine detail. Fifty years from now, how do you think the history books will portray Edward Snowden?

Goldfarb: The history books will consider him a brave and conscientious man, worthy of better treatment than the U.S. managed, so far. Hopefully, there will be a decent ending to his adventure.

POGO's upcoming Summer 2015 Reading List features After Snowden and many other excellent books on government accountability - stay tuned for the list coming next week!