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.”