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Snowden Gets Nobel Nomination as U.S. Pursues Trial

By Mike Dorning and Saleha Mohsin
January 29, 2014 1:02 PM EST 240 Comments

President Barack Obama wants to see Edward Snowden clapped in irons and bound to the U.S. for a criminal trial. Two Norwegian politicians have a different fate in mind for Snowden: the Nobel Peace Prize.

Norwegian parliamentarians Snorre Valen and Baard Vegar Solhjell nominated Snowden for the award -- the same honor Obama himself won in 2009 -- for his disclosures about National Security Agency spying.

The idea that the Nobel committee would bestow its most prestigious prize on a man some in the U.S. consider a traitor drew a dismissive response from a White House official, who said Snowden instead should be tried as a felon.

Snowden “should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

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Snowden’s leaks “often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come,” she said.

Two Norwegians agreed that Snowden’s leaks undoubtedly “damaged the security interests of several nations in the short term” and that they didn’t necessarily condone or support all his disclosures. The revelations did have a positive impact, they said.

Sparking Debate

“The public debate and changes in policy that have followed in the wake of Snowden’s whistleblowing have contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order,” Valen and Solhjell, who represent the Socialist Left Party in the Norwegian parliament, wrote in their nomination letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg. Solhjell was environment minister in the former Labor-led government.

Obama was spurred to make changes in U.S. surveillance programs in response to domestic and international backlash that resulted from disclosures made by Snowden, who has temporary asylum in Russia after being charged under espionage laws in the U.S.

The Nobel committee doesn’t release the names of nominees for 50 years, though those who make the nominations are free to do so. Nominees may be given to the five-member committee by a government and court officials, academics, board members of organizations that have received the prize, as well as past winners.

Valen in 2011 nominated Wikileaks, an anti-secrecy group that previously released secret U.S. government documents and which has been assisting Snowden. Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier who is serving a 35-year sentence for providing documents to Wikileaks, was nominated last year.

No Impact

Valen said he had no worry that the nomination, or even the award of the prize, would draw a negative response from the U.S.

“The U.S. is one of the world’s most democratic and free societies,” Valen said in an e-mail today. “I feel confident that a peace prize to Snowden will not affect US-Norwegian relations. I have more trust in Barack Obama’s democratic thinking than that of China’s.”

The criteria for those who may offer nominations has resulted in a broad collection of major and minor historical figures being offered for consideration.

Past nominees have included dictators Benito Mussolini of Italy in 1935 and Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany in 1939. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was nominated twice, in 1945 and 1948, according to the Nobel organization. None received the prize.

The Nobel committee received 256 candidates for the Peace Prize in 2013, according the organization’s website. It is awarded annually on Dec. 10 in Oslo.

Pursuing Snowden

Snowden, 30, fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia after leaking classified documents on the U.S. National Security Agency spying programs. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that if Snowden wanted to return to the U.S. and plead guilty, prosecutors would be willing to negotiate.

The five-member U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by Congress under post Sept. 11 anti-terrorism laws, concluded in a majority opinion issued Jan. 23 that the collection of bulk telephone data is illegal and should be stopped. Their report found that the program to collect and store the records has provided only “minimal” help in thwarting terrorist attacks.

The privacy panel has no authority to change the programs and Obama presented his own plan earlier this month. The president said he would continue to allow government use of bulk phone records yet would prevent NSA from storing the data and require the agency get court approval to use it.

Federal courts have delivered conflicting rulings on whether the NSA program is permitted under U.S. law. On Dec. 27, U.S. District Judge William Pauley III concluded the surveillance didn’t violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Days earlier, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled the program probably violates privacy rights.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net; Saleha Mohsin in Oslo at smohsin2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jonas Bergman at jbergman@bloomberg.net; Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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