Hillary Clinton: Edward Snowden’s Leaks Helped Terrorists

She is “puzzled” and found it “odd” that Snowden fled the country.

Hillary Clinton testifies on October 27, 2011.
National Journal
Emma Roller
April 25, 2014, 8:33 a.m.

Speak­ing at the Uni­versity of Con­necti­c­ut on Wed­nes­day night, Hil­lary Clin­ton made a re­strained but non­ethe­less damning at­tack against Ed­ward Snowden.

At the event, an in­ter­view­er asked Clin­ton wheth­er she thought the former Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency con­tract­or’s dis­clos­ures about its do­mest­ic spy­ing pro­grams had any pos­it­ive ef­fects on Amer­ic­an se­cur­ity policy or pub­lic dis­course.

Without ever ex­pli­citly men­tion­ing the NSA’s spy­ing pro­grams, Clin­ton jus­ti­fied their util­ity in pro­tect­ing the U.S. from an­oth­er ter­ror­ist at­tack in the wake of 9/11.

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“People were des­per­ate to avoid an­oth­er at­tack, and I saw enough in­tel­li­gence as a sen­at­or from New York, and then cer­tainly as sec­ret­ary [of State], that this is a con­stant — there are people right this minute try­ing to fig­ure out how to do harm to Amer­ic­ans and to oth­er in­no­cent people,” Clin­ton said. “So it was a de­bate that needs to hap­pen, so that we make sure that we’re not in­fringing on Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy, which is a val­ued, cher­ished per­son­al be­lief that we have. But we also had to fig­ure out how to get the right amount of se­cur­ity.”

As for Snowden’s role in ex­pos­ing the NSA pro­grams, Clin­ton in­sinu­ated that she found his motives sus­pi­cious.

“When he emerged and when he ab­sconded with all that ma­ter­i­al, I was puzzled be­cause we have all these pro­tec­tions for whistle-blowers. If he were con­cerned and wanted to be part of the Amer­ic­an de­bate, he could have been,” she said. “But it struck me as — I just have to be hon­est with you — as sort of odd that he would flee to China, be­cause Hong Kong is con­trolled by China, and that he would then go to Rus­sia — two coun­tries with which we have very dif­fi­cult cy­ber­re­la­tion­ships, to put it mildly.”

Let’s take a mo­ment to parse Clin­ton’s lan­guage here. She didn’t call Snowden a trait­or, or plainly say that him leav­ing the coun­try made her sus­pi­cious. In Amer­ic­an polit­ics, it’s nev­er good to come right out and ac­cuse someone of wrong­do­ing — you can just say you’re “con­fused” or “puzzled” by their ac­tions. In the same way, “odd” or “strange” of­ten serve as se­mant­ic place­hold­ers for “bad.” Just ask Rep. Paul Ry­an, who ab­ruptly ended a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view in 2012 after an un­wel­come re­mark about tax cuts, then told his in­ter­view­er, “That was kind of strange. You try­ing to stuff words in people’s mouths?”

Clin­ton stressed the strange­ness of Snowden’s de­cision to flee to coun­tries that have per­pet­rated cy­ber­at­tacks against the U.S. She noted that when State De­part­ment of­fi­cials would travel to Rus­sia or China on dip­lo­mat­ic busi­ness, they would leave their cell phones aboard the plane with their bat­ter­ies taken out. “It’s not like the only gov­ern­ment in the world do­ing any­thing is the United States,” she said.

“I think turn­ing over a lot of that ma­ter­i­al — in­ten­tion­ally or un­in­ten­tion­ally — drained, gave all kinds of in­form­a­tion, not only to big coun­tries, but to net­works and ter­ror­ist groups and the like. So I have a hard time think­ing that some­body who is a cham­pi­on of pri­vacy and liberty has taken refuge in Rus­sia, un­der Putin’s au­thor­ity.”

With sar­casm creep­ing in­to her voice, Clin­ton im­plied that Snowden ac­ted all too friendly to­ward Vladi­mir Putin, whose coun­try has been har­bor­ing Snowden since last Au­gust.

“And then he calls in to a Putin talk show and says, ‘Pres­id­ent Putin, do you spy on people?’ And Pres­id­ent Putin says, ‘Well, from one in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­al to an­oth­er, of course not.’ ‘Oh, thank you so much!’ I mean really. I don’t know, I have a hard time fol­low­ing it.”

It will be in­ter­est­ing to con­trast Clin­ton’s re­marks with Sen. Rand Paul’s when he speaks at Har­vard Uni­versity on Fri­day af­ter­noon. In all like­li­hood, he’ll re­hash the same jokes he made when he spoke at Berke­ley in March about the NSA listen­ing in on his cell-phone con­ver­sa­tions. Mean­while, Bill Clin­ton has called Snowden an “im­per­fect mes­sen­ger” for bring­ing the de­bate about pri­vacy versus na­tion­al se­cur­ity to the fore.

Both Hil­lary Clin­ton and Paul are try­ing to win over col­lege stu­dents to their philo­sophy. If ap­plause decibels are any in­dic­a­tion, though, stu­dents fa­vor li­on­iz­ing the whistle-blower over sham­ing him.

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