Gates: Why yes, I think Snowden is a traitor

Probably not much of a surprise, considering how long Robert Gates served in the CIA and in other national-security postings, but it’s also not just a knee-jerk reaction. Interviewed today on PBS NewsHour, Gates responded to a question about Edward Snowden by declaring him a traitor — in part for running off to America’s opponents on the world stage after stealing massive amounts of intelligence (via Zeke Miller):

Gates said neither the House nor the Senate’s intelligence oversight committees had indicated any wrongdoing by the National Security Agency or any lack of awareness of its surveillance programs. The question is whether NSA went beyond the limits of what the president and Congress approved, and that would be revealed in a review that President Obama plans to announce later this week, he said.

“I think that the revelations have done a lot of damage,” Gates said, adding about Snowden, “I think he’s a traitor.”

He said the government has built an institution of oversight over the past 40 years, and there are avenues for people to pursue with the authorities if they believe a law has been broken. Gates said for Snowden to make public his allegations instead “is an extraordinary act of hubris.”

Gates said if Snowden, who has taken refuge in Russia, was truly motivated as a truth-teller, he would have returned to the United States to “face the music.”

Gates echoes the arguments made by critics of Snowden, myself included, that he had other avenues to use for exposing abuses by the NSA. Rebutting that argument, Reason’s Nick Gillespie interviews William Binney, who says he tried to expose NSA abuses through those methods, and it didn’t work:

In 2002 – long before the revelations of Edward Snowden rocked the world – Binney and several former colleagues went to Congress and the Department of Defense, asking that the NSA be investigated. Not only was the super-secretive agency wasting taxpayer dollars on ineffective programs, they argued, it was broadly violating constitutional guarantees to privacy and due process.

The government didn’t just turn a blind eye to the agency’s activities; it later accused the whistleblowers of leaking state secrets. A federal investigation of Binney – including an FBI search and seizure of his home and office computers that destroyed his consulting business – exonerated him on all charges.

“We are a clear example that [going through] the proper channels doesn’t work,” says Binney, who approves of Edward Snowden’s strategy of going straight to the media. At the same time, Binney criticizes Snowden’s leaking of documents not directly related to the NSA’s surveillance of American citizens and violation of constitutional rights. Binney believes that the NSA is vital to national security but has been become unmoored due to technological advances that vastly extend its capabilities and leadership that has no use for limits on government power. “They took that program designed [to prevent terrorist attacks] and used it to spy on American citizens and everyone else in the world,” flatly declares Binney (33:30).

It’s a fair argument — and perhaps Gates should be asked to address the way Binney was treated as well as how he’d treat Snowden today. Hubris could cut both ways.