European Lawmakers Want Snowden to Take Part in Debate on Surveillance

By Patrick Goodenough | January 30, 2014 | 5:42 AM EST

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), representing 47 member states of the Council of Europe, meets four times a year in Strasbourg, France. (Photo: Council of Europe)

( – A multinational group of European lawmakers has invited the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to take part in a debate – by video link if necessary – with U.S. officials on the twin themes of mass surveillance and whistleblowing.

The legal affairs and human rights committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), based in Strasbourg, France, wants Snowden to participate in planned public hearings in April.

Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, has leaked significant amounts of information about NSA surveillance programs to media organizations, including often embarrassing allegations about U.S. spying on allied European leaders and populations.

Pieter Omtzigt, a Dutch lawmaker who is preparing reports for the assembly on the subject, said Snowden could sum up his disclosures, and possibly make new ones, while unspecified invited U.S. officials could present a justification for such surveillance.

In a separate hearing on whistle-blowing, Omtzigt said, Snowden could be asked to explain his decision to go public with confidential information, and U.S. officials could be asked to make a case that the leaker is a criminal.

“I am aware that the proposal to invite Snowden is controversial, but listening to what he has to say does not mean that we adopt his position or endorse his actions,” Omtzigt said in an introductory memo.

Acknowledging that it would be risky for Snowden, who is wanted in the U.S., to travel to France in April, the lawmaker said it would ultimately be up to the fugitive, “in agreement with his Russian hosts, to decide whether he feels confident to accept such an invitation.”

“As a fallback, we could invite Mr. Snowden to participate in the hearing by way of teleconferencing.”

PACE is a body of European lawmakers representing the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, a grouping formed in the aftermath of World War II and responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

Not to be confused with the European Union, the Council of Europe includes Russia and other former Soviet states including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The 47 members’ national parliaments appoint 318 representatives to serve on PACE, which meets four times a year in Strasbourg and styles itself “the democratic conscience of Greater Europe.”

‘Grave damage to our national security’

Testifying on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the Snowden affair “the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.”

The leaks had caused and continue to cause profound damage, he said, making the nation less safe and Americans less secure.

“What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs. As a result, we’ve lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources, including some shared with us by valued partners.”

“Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft, and the insights that they are gaining are making our job much, much harder,” Clapper continued. “And this includes putting the lives of members or assets of the intelligence community at risk, as well as our armed forces, diplomats and our citizens.”

He urged Snowden to return remaining stolen documents that had not yet been made public, “to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.”

Clapper, who was appearing before a Senate hearing on worldwide threats to U.S. national security, replied in the affirmative when asked whether America’s European allies ever collect intelligence against U.S. officials or business interests.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, testifying in the same hearing, said that the Snowden leaks have “caused grave damage to our national security” and potentially place the lives of American troops at risk.

Two left-wing Norwegian lawmakers on Wednesday formally nominated Snowden for the Nobel peace prize, saying he had contributed to peace by revealing “the nature and technological prowess of modern surveillance.”

“There is no doubt that the actions of Edward Snowden may have damaged the security interests of several nations in the short term. We do not necessarily condone or support all of his disclosures,” said Bard Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen in their joint nomination.

“We are, however, convinced that the public debate and changes in policy that have followed in the wake of Snowden’s whistleblowing has contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order. His actions have in effect led to the reintroduction of trust and transparency as a leading principle in global security policies. Its value can’t be overestimated.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow