the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights ... how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.The Times notes President Obama appointed a "panel" which "issued a powerful indictment of the agency’s invasions of privacy and called for a major overhaul of its operations." So, the Times finds it easy enough to conclude Snowden "deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight" because "he has done his country a great service."
Indeed, the Times suggests:
It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.President Obama has argued Snowden "could have simply told his superiors about the abuses" because he had signed an executive order "that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time.” The Times notes, however, that the order actually "did not apply to contractors, only to intelligence employees, rendering its protections useless to Mr. Snowden."
In addition, the Times notes Snowden did "report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the N.S.A., and that they took no action." This, of course, would make perfect sense, if the agency did not consider its collection programs an abuse.
The NSA's own internal auditor concluded that it "broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year."
Snowden's leaks also "revealed" James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, "lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans."
Critics argue Snowden has done "damage to intelligence operations" but the Times sees not the "slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security." See full editorial here.