What Bill Clinton’s Snowden Remarks Could Mean for Hillary

The former president’s comments don’t exactly jibe with what Obama has said about the fugitive.

Former President Bill Clinton campaigning for Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes at the Galt House Hotel on February 25, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
April 9, 2014, 9:06 a.m.

Some mem­bers of Con­gress may be call­ing for his head, but Ed­ward Snowden earned some sym­path­et­ic re­marks from a former pres­id­ent Tues­day.

“Mr. Snowden has been sort of an im­per­fect mes­sen­ger, from my point of view, for what we need to be talk­ing about here,” Bill Clin­ton said dur­ing a 50-minute speech at the Nav­al Academy in An­na­pol­is, Md. “The Snowden case has raised all of these ques­tions about wheth­er we can use tech­no­logy to pro­tect the na­tion­al se­cur­ity without des­troy­ing the liberty, which in­cludes the right to pri­vacy, of ba­sic­ally in­no­cent bystand­ers.”

Clin­ton’s com­ments don’t ex­actly jibe with what the cur­rent pres­id­ent has said about the fu­git­ive, who is liv­ing in Rus­sia un­der tem­por­ary asylum. Pres­id­ent Obama has re­peatedly said the former Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency con­tract­or should re­turn to the coun­try and be put on tri­al.

Clin­ton also sug­ges­ted that re­forms bey­ond what Obama has pro­posed may be needed for the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s spy pro­grams, al­though he bal­anced the sug­ges­tion by not­ing it’s im­port­ant that the in­tel­li­gence com­munity doesn’t “look like fools” and miss a po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist plot.

Hil­lary Clin­ton, who on Tues­day for the first time men­tioned she is “think­ing about” a pres­id­en­tial run in 2016, was, of course, sec­ret­ary of State dur­ing Obama’s first term, and has largely avoided dis­cuss­ing the is­sue her­self. Her hus­band’s com­ments may sig­nal some light test­ing of the is­sue, which Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Rand Paul, who is also weigh­ing a White House run, has seized as a cent­ral plank of his liber­tari­an plat­form.

Snowden, a former NSA con­tract­or, leaked top-secret agency doc­u­ments to a hand­ful of journ­al­ists last sum­mer, prompt­ing a tor­rent of stor­ies re­veal­ing in­tim­ate de­tails of the gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance prac­tices.

Dur­ing Snowden’s globe-trot­ting pur­suit for asylum that fol­lowed, Hil­lary con­demned China for al­low­ing him to flee from Hong Kong des­pite a re­quest to ar­rest him, a “de­lib­er­ate choice” that she said would “un­ques­tion­ably [have] a neg­at­ive im­pact on the U.S.-China re­la­tion­ship.”

She ad­ded that Snowden’s leaks amoun­ted to “out­rageous be­ha­vi­or.”

But un­ease about the gov­ern­ment’s bulk data col­lec­tion pro­grams has grown since then, as pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties groups, and an un­usu­al co­ali­tion of politi­cians in both parties have clamored for sur­veil­lance re­forms.

Bill Clin­ton does not speak for Hil­lary Clin­ton, but the two have been closely aligned polit­ic­ally for dec­ades. His de­cision to strike a softer tone about Snowden on Wed­nes­day could fore­shad­ow a 2016 elec­tion cycle where both parties ad­opt a plat­form that is less bullish on the need for sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions to pro­tect na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

“We can­not change the char­ac­ter of our coun­try or com­prom­ise the fu­ture of our people by cre­at­ing a na­tion­al se­cur­ity state, which takes away the liberty and pri­vacy we pro­pose to ad­vance,” Bill said Wed­nes­day, adding, “Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

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