WASHINGTON (CBS News) — “The chase is on,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday on “Face the Nation,” after the former National Security Agency contractor wanted by the United States for leaking top-secret government surveillance programs reportedly arrived in Moscow early Sunday morning from Hong Kong, where he had been hiding.
“I think it’s a very big surprise,” Feinstein said. “I had actually thought that China would see this as an opportunity to improve relations and extradite him to the United States. China clearly had a role in this, in my view. I don’t think this was just Hong Kong without Chinese acquiescence.”
The United States “doesn’t know what happened,” CBS News White House correspondent Major Garrett explained, having crafted under the extradition treaty charges that would be applicable in Hong Kong. “It put together what it said and thought were really good charges that represented everything we could legally prosecute Edward Snowden under,” Garrett said, “thought there was an agreement with the Hong Kong authorities.
“…It looks like there was a technicality,” he continued. “There was a lack of an Interpol warrant in addition to the charges rendered by the United States government, and that might have created a seam, a very small seam in which the Hong Kong authorities allowed themselves to let Edward Snowden out of there. It is also the belief within the administration that Hong Kong was getting weary of the saga and would prefer Edward Snowden to get out. He’s gotten out, and he’s now somebody else’s problem – mainly the United States’.”
Snowden’s final destination remains unclear – both Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency and Reuters cited an unidentified Aeroflot official as saying he is ultimately Venezuela-bound – but Feinstein observed that “he clearly was aided and abetted,” probably by WikiLeaks. “I want to get him caught and brought back for trial, and I think we need to know exactly what he has – he could have a lot, lot more,” she said. “But I think the chase is on.”
“Don’t underestimate the next strange twist,” CBS News correspondent cautioned. “This movie isn’t over yet. I don’t know where it ends.
“The reporting out of Moscow, if we can believe that,” he continued, “says he’s either headed for Cuba and ultimately Caracas, Venezuela, or he might be headed to Ecuador. In either case, it’s highly problematic for the U.S. The Justice Department has put down charges that including charges under the Espionage Act, and I don’t think either of those countries would want to play on that.”
Feinstein stood by the NSA programs, designed to track suspected terrorists by secretly culling U.S. phone records and mining user data from major Internet servers, which have set off some uproar over the administration’s surveillance reach. She said they’ve played a role in disrupting more than 50 terrorist plots, and have oversight from not only the Justice Department, but independent inspectors general for the NSA.
Snowden, who Feinstein argued is no “whistleblower,” as some libertarian supporters have termed him, could be in possession of more than 200 additional pieces of classified information that she said could “really put people in jeopardy.” “Whatever his motives are – and I take him at face value,” Feinstein said, “he could have stayed and faced the music. I don’t think running is a noble thought… He has taken an oath, and these oaths mean something,” she continued. “If you can’t keep the oath, get out. And then do something about it in a legal way.”
On July 10, Feinstein said the committee will meet with Army Gen. Keith Alexander, National Security Agency director, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to discuss possible adjustments. “From the point of view of our committee, something that concerns me more is that we get an understanding in this nation that what this is all about is the nation’s security,” she said.
“If there are changes that should be made, we will make those changes,” Feinstein continued. “I think the front-page story in the ‘Washington Post’ with respect to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court probably put more transparency on that court than anything in history of a secret organization. And it’s all out there now, pictures of the judges who appointed them to the federal bench – I think we need to enable people to see the process that’s followed. How we do that, I need to think out.”
But “regardless of what you feel about our NSA laws,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, later on the program, “I don’t know how anybody can view this person as anything other than a criminal.
“… If he views himself as not one, I hope he’ll come back and make his case,” he said of Snowden. “But certainly he’s not exuding the characteristics of any kind of ‘hero,’ if you will, to anybody in our nation, I hope.”
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