Bill Clinton Has A Different Take On Edward Snowden Than Barack Obama

Bill Clinton seems far more understanding of Edward Snowden than the current President

Edward Snowden 2

Former President Bill Clinton had some interesting things to say about NSA leaker Edward Snowden recently:

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, though he balanced the suggestion by noting it’s important the intelligence community doesn’t “look like fools” and miss a potential terrorist plot.

“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,” Clinton said, adding: “Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

I tend to agree with what Clinton said here. As I’ve stated in the past,  it’s true that Snowden broke the law by stealing classified information and sharing it with journalists is a serious crime and that he should be prosecuted for that. However,  it’s also quite obvious that we would not be having the discussion about government surveillance, privacy, the Fourth Amendment, and related issues that we have been engaging in since he first became a worldwide name less than a year ago if he had not done what he did. It’s also worth noting that, according to every source I’ve read on the subject, Snowden arguably did not have any legal options available to him to bring what he considered illegal action by the government to public light. Government contractors such as Snowden do not have the same type of whistleblower protections that Federal Government employees do, for example, so it’s unclear that Snowden could have done anything that didn’t place him in legal jeopardy. Admittedly, Snowden has not helped his public relations case by not only absconding from the country, but going to places like Hong Kong and Moscow. Nevertheless, I would submit that we are better off knowing what Snowden has revealed to the public than we were before hand. At least now the American people know some of what is being done “for” and to them, and politicians such as Rand Paul and others have responded to understandable public outrage over some of these revelations. In the end, that’s how our system of government is supposed to work, isn’t it?

The interesting question, of course, is whether or not Hillary Clinton shares her husbands views on these matters. While Clinton was Secretary of State during the time that many of the programs that Snowden revealed were in operation as well as during the time that they became public, she has not really spoken publicly about the matter since she left office. These comments from the former President make one wonder if this may be the beginning of a shift from Clinton herself on this issue and an effort to appeal to the more progressive wing of her party.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, National Security, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jeremy R says:

    Government contractors such as Snowden do not have the same type of whistleblower protections that Federal Government employees do, for example, so it’s unclear that Snowden could have done anything that didn’t place him in legal jeopardy.

    Is there any country on the planet where legal whistle-blowing protections would be provided to someone who gets a foreign intelligence job with the intent to steal every highly-classified file he can get his hands on, then flees the country with them, and finally bulk-leaks hundreds of thousands of those documents to total strangers he has no reason to trust? Instead of just leaking what he objected to, he left it to fringe, foreign-based bloggers and documentary filmmakers to vet the huge trove of state secrets for “news worthiness,” not criminality. Additionally, as the document trove is shared with a wider & wider group of journalists and activists, the prospect of those files remaining secure from espionage becomes more and more dubious.

    I just can’t fathom why whistle-blowing protections would ever cover Manning-style mass-leaking of unvetted, highly-classified documents.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    @Jeremy R: I was confused by that, too, but I suspect that what Doug might be proposing is that — had there been a protected whistleblower mechanism — Snowden might not have committed the crimes he did, but might instead have tried first to work within the system.

    I don’t pretend to know anything about Snowden’s real motives, so I can’t assign a probability to that scenario. I do believe that there are sincere patriots out there working in national security who would like to blow their whistles but don’t feel they can do so without excessive personal risk.

  3. JR says:

    i wonder how may members of our intelligence community had their identities compromised or died as a result of Snowden’s leaks. The author is also implying that the ends justify the means.
    It’s alright to break the law and leak highly sensitive information to the rest of the world if you are doing it for a good cause.

    I also wonder if Russia’s new aggression is not a result of having access to these highly confidential documents that Snowden possesses.

  4. dazedandconfused says:

    Not sure that’s significantly different from Obama.

    The guy who is in the seat actually managing affairs and under oath to enforce the laws can’t speak with the freedom of a civilian, and he has proposed a change in the gathering and storing of “haystacks”.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Of course he does (at least publicly) – he’s not President anymore.

  6. Tillman says:

    “Imperfect messenger” is probably the kindest way to put it.