Dead Drop: August 21

SNOWDEN JOB: You could hear jaws drop around the Intelligence Community last weekend when President Trump said during a press conference at his Bedminster, NJ golf club that he will “look into” pardoning the fugitive Edward Snowden. In days gone by, Trump has tweeted that Snowden is a “traitor” and should be executed but that was then, and this is – well, this is 2020.  The notion of bringing Snowden back to the US wearing anything other than handcuffs did not go down well on Capitol Hill where a bipartisan group of members expressed disapproval. Many former senior intelligence officials also expressed alarm. Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell and former Under Secretary of Defense Mick Vickers wrote in The Washington Post that pardoning Snowden only helps Russian President (and Snowden’s current landlord) Vladimir Putin. So, why would Trump trot out the idea of pardoning Snowden? We’ve heard lots of theories like one that says the President has a penchant for misdirection (with everyone focused on coronavirus, the post office and the Democratic National Convention – give them something else to talk about) or the notion that supporting Snowden fits in with the narrative that the IC was spying on the Trump campaign so anyone who complains about the IC spying is in line for a favor. It is anyone’s guess.  But if Snowden does win a “get out of jail free card” he can probably live well.  Politico reports that he’s earned over $1.2 million in speaker fees.

PARDON ME?  On the subject of pardons, we were reminded that back in 1998, then-CIA Director George Tenet told President Clinton that if jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard were released (as was under consideration as part of a Middle East peace deal) that Tenet would immediately resign.  The Cipher Brief reached out to CIA public affairs to see if current CIA Director Gina Haspel has shared her views on pardons with President Trump, just as George Tenet did with President Clinton years ago.  An Agency spokesman said: “I’m sorry, but you know I could never weigh in on anything any current president may or may not discuss with a CIA Director.” We figured that – but thought it was worth a shot.

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