Former CIA chief of staff: Snowden ‘not a whistleblower’

Updated
A man stops to lean against a building as pedestrians walk past while he looks down at his cell phone on 5th Avenue in New York, NY.
A man stops to lean against a building as pedestrians walk past while he looks down at his cell phone on 5th Avenue in New York, NY.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old defense contractor and former CIA communications expert who confessed over the weekend to releasing secret National Security Agency surveillance documents, has said his actions were done to protect the public good. But in the wake of his leaks, intelligence officials have called the NSA’s surveillance program as necessary to curtail and prevent terrorist attacks.

Jeremy Bash, a former chief counsel to the House Intelligence Committee and former chief of staff to former CIA director and secretary of defense Leon Panetta, said on Monday’s The Daily Rundown that Snowden’s actions weren’t heroic, and defended the surveillance program he helped authorize as one of the drafters of section 702 of the FISA amendment act.

“Our government relies on contractors. They take the same oath. They sign the same non-disclosure agreements. They have the same exact clearance as government officials,” said Bash. “[Snowden] had a responsibility. No one forced him to work at the CIA. He voluntarily did it.”

Bash said ultimately, the blame rests with Snowden, who is currently in Hong Kong, where he revealed himself to the British newspaper The Guardian over the weekend, and has said he hopes the country’s laws will protect him.

“The efforts to make him into a hero, I think, are going to fall flat,” said Bash. “He’s not a whistle blower. You don’t break the law, steal documents and then make a run for the border.”

Bash said there is a process to be followed for  government whistleblowing—to approach an agency’s inspector general if criminal activity is suspected. But the process was likely moot, with agency officials noting the process of obtaining phone and internet records was legal.

“There was nothing inappropriate, nothing unlawful,” said Bash.

Bash explained that the FISA section he helped draft was designed to curtail foreign spies, and that the authorization the government seeks to obtain records is “carefully overseen” and “carefully scrutinized by the courts.”

“There may be some people who don’t want the government to have these tools. But I think reasonable people will say that government should have these tools if there are checks and balances if there’s oversight by the court,” said Bash. “That’s exactly what happened in this case.”

Former CIA chief of staff: Snowden ‘not a whistleblower’

Updated