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
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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.

“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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