Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who fled to Russia more than two years ago after leaking documents about National Security Agency surveillance programs, says he's willing to go to jail in order to return to the United States.
"I've volunteered to go to prison with the government many times," Snowden said in an interview with the BBC that aired Monday. "What I won't do is I won't serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations."
But, Snowden said, he is still waiting for Department of Justice officials to respond to his offer. "We're still waiting for them to call us back," he told the BBC, when asked if his lawyers were in active negotiations with the government.
His comments to the BBC about prison mirror what Snowden told Wired in 2014: "I told the government I'd volunteer for prison, as long as it served the right purpose," Snowden said then. "I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can't allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal."
Snowden faces multiple felony charges in the United States that could come with three decades in prison.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Ben Wizner, an ACLU lawyer representing Snowden, said Snowden's BBC comments don't represent a change of position for his client. "He's said from the beginning that he does not intend to plead guilty to felonies as a result of his act of conscience," Wizner said.
In July, former attorney general Eric Holder told Yahoo News that the "possibility exists" that the Justice Department would agree to a plea bargain for Snowden. "I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with," Holder said. Robert Litt, the chief counsel to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has even floated a specific plea deal that included one felony count and three to five years of jail time, Yahoo reported, citing three anonymous officials.
And that appears to be the conflict: Snowden's legal team doesn't want a plea deal that includes agreeing to a felony count.
Snowden's lawyers have long argued that their client would not be able to have a fair trial in the United States because he faces charges under a World War I-era espionage law that does not allow for a public interest defense.
Snowden repeated that argument to the BBC. "The Espionage Act finds anyone guilty who provides any information to the public, regardless of whether it is right or wrong," Snowden said. "You aren't even allowed to explain to a jury what your motivations were for revealing this information. It is simply a question of, 'Did you reveal information?' If yes, you go to prison for the rest of your life."
Despite his Russian exile, Snowden has maintained a high profile since coming forward as the source of revelations about government spying — talking to panels via livestream, giving interviews and recently joining Twitter.