The US has hinted that a plea bargain could to struck to see the fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden return from Russia.
The Attorney General Eric Holder said he would be willing to “engage in conversation” with the agency whistleblower, whose revelations showed the extent to which the National Security Agency was collecting data spying on its own people.
Speaking from Virginia in an interview with MSNBC, Mr Holder admitted that the government would not consider offering the man he called the “defendant” a full amnesty.
Granting clemency “were we say no harm, no foul… would be going too far”, he said.
But Mr Holder added: “If Mr Snowden wanted to come back to the US, enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers. We'd do that with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty.“
The interview coincided with an online question-and-answer session given by Mr Snowden, in which he hit out once more at the “indiscriminate mass surveillance” carried out by governments, and condemned the alleged threats to his life made by unnamed US intelligence officials in the media.
Mr Snowden, living in temporary asylum in Russia after stealing and disclosing US government secrets on surveillance programs and other activities, faces criminal charges in the US after fleeing last year first to Hong Kong and then Moscow.
In his online session, Mr Snowden was asked to explain the conditions he needed to return to the US.
“Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it's unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself,” Mr Snowden wrote.
He said the law under which he was charged “was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest and forbids a public interest defence”. He added that as things stand “there's no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury”.