Many regard Eric Holder as one of the most incompetent and partisan men to serve as attorney general in U.S. history.
Holder’s record as attorney general included proposing to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a Manhattan court room, failing to seriously investigate IRS targeting of tea party and other conservative groups, monitoring American journalists and the “Fast and Furious” operation cover-up.
Congress held Holder in contempt of Congress in June 2012 for refusing to hand over documents on the Fast and Furious operation. Senator Ted Cruz called for Holder to be impeached for the way he handled IRS targeting of conservative groups.
Holder’s recent comment about Edward Snowden adds to his record of ineptitude.
Last weekend, Holder said former NSA technician Edward Snowden, who stole over 1.7 million highly classified documents, leaked many of them to the news media and sought refuge in Russia, performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Holder also said: “Now I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal” and conceded that Snowden damaged U.S. national security.
Holder added: “He harmed American interests. I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised.
“There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.”
Nevertheless, Holder also stated that Snowden performed a public service and believes a judge in his trial should take into account the usefulness of the debate Snowden initiated about U.S. surveillance methods. Holder urged Snowden to “get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal.”
Holder did not comment on reports that Snowden may have been working for Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies and provided all of the classified documents he stole to the Russian government.
Holder’s comments about Snowden were embarrassing and dangerous for three reasons.
First, it is not true that Snowden kicked off a legitimate debate about NSA spying on Americans. The intelligence collection programs he compromised were carefully monitored by the courts, the Justice Department and Congess.
By leaking partial details of these programs out of context, Snowden set off a firestorm of controversy against valuable intelligence tools that successfully protected our nation from terrorist attacks.
One of the most controversial intelligence programs compromised by Snowden was the NSA metadata program which collected and analyzed phone records for ties to terrorists.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell wrote in a December 27, 2013 Washington Post op-ed that if the metadata program had been in place before September 2001, “it would likely have prevented 9/11” and “has the potential to prevent the next 9/11.”
Newsmax reported in September 2014 that terrorist groups like ISIS took steps to improve their communications security due to Snowden’s leaks and, as a result, have become harder for U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey believes the ISIS terrorists who committed the November 13, 2015 Paris terrorist attacks concealed their communications based on what they learned about Western counterterrorism surveillance programs from the Snowden leaks. For this reason, Woolsey has called for Snowden to be convicted of treason and given the death penalty.
Second, Holder’s comment questioning “the way he did it” ignores that most of the huge number of classified documents Snowden stole reportedly involved foreign intelligence collection and had nothing to do with alleged NSA spying on Americans.
Third, Holder’s comment that Snowden did a public service by stealing and leaking huge numbers of classified documents was dangerous and irresponsible. I wrote in National Review in 2013 that there are numerous legitimate avenues Snowden could have used to air his alleged grievances without endangering U.S. national security.
By making comments which imply Holder believes Snowden had well-intentioned motives for compromising U.S. national security information, he may encourage other U.S. government employees who hold security clearances to take similar action.
No U.S. official – current or former – should make excuses for Edward Snowden’s criminal behavior. Snowden betrayed his country by leaking extremely sensitive intelligence information that has seriously undermined U.S. national security and benefited America’s enemies, including Russia, China, ISIS and al-Qaida.
Holder should take back his reckless comments and join Ambassador John Bolton and former CIA Director Woolsey who believe Snowden’s crimes are so serious that he should be tried for treason and given the death penalty.
(This article was submitted to and reviewed by the CIA Prepublications Review Board for classification reasons.)