Former AG Calls Snowden's Reveal of NSA Surveillance Operations a 'Public Service'

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder qualified his statement that Snowden had done a public service by saying the way Snowden went about the revelation was inappropriate and damaging to national security.

by / May 31, 2016
The National Security Agency's Maryland headquarters. Courtesy National Security Agency (NSA)

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder added fuel to the domestic spying debate when on May 30 he suggested in an interview that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden had done a “public service” by revealing details about the government’s surveillance operations.

In 2013, Snowden went public with thousands of documents regarding the NSA’s domestic operations, which collected mass amounts of data from various sources to create what the agency calls a “pattern of life.”    

During an hour-long interview with David Axelrod, for the CNN and University of Chicago Institute of Politics podcast “The Axe Files,” Holder qualified his statements by saying though the leak was beneficial to public discourse, the way Snowden went about the revelation was inappropriate and damaging to national security.

“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder said during the interview. “Now, I would say that doing what he did, and the way he did it, was inappropriate and illegal.”

Though Holder gave nod to the value in starting the conversation around the controversial program, he countered that “returns” from the mass listening programs were “not in any way substantial” and said the former spy agency contractor should face consequences for his actions.    

Holder said that ultimately a judge should determine Snowden’s punishment while weighing the value of the national dialog.

“I think that he’s got to make a decision, he’s broken the law in my view," he said. "He needs to get lawyers, come on back and decide, see what he wants to do — go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

“I think he harmed American interests,” Holder continued. “I know that there are ways that certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other counties were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised.”

Following the Snowden leak, Holder said intelligence and security agencies were at a loss and were effectively working “blind.”

“What he did was not without consequence,” Holder said.

CNN reported that during the podcast, Snowden told the network’s Jake Tapper that he would like to return to the United States, but said whistleblower protections would not apply to him because of his position as an NSA contractor.

“Returning to the U.S., I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public and myself," Snowden reportedly said, "but unfortunately it’s not possible in the face of current whistleblower protection laws, which through a failure of law did not cover national security contractors like myself."