Hagel calls on Russia to hand Snowden over to U.S.
Hagel said he believes that Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor and now fugitive who has admitted to revealing highly classified U.S. government surveillance programs, is probably still at a Moscow airport.
“I would hope that the Russians do the right thing here and turn Snowden over to the United States,” Hagel told reporters during a Pentagon news conference, adding that he did not know if Moscow has made a final decision on what to do with the man now charged with espionage.
Hagel called the Snowden affair a negative in U.S.-Russian relations but nevertheless one that both nations must work through.
Hagel, along with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that Snowden’s decision to reveal details about the NSA’s gathering of phone records of millions of Americans as well as a separate classified program that involved eavesdropping on Internet activity by foreigners overseas did uncalculated damage to U.S national security.
“We are assessing that now. But make no mistake. This violation of our laws was a serious security breach,” Hagel said. He added that he was in the Senate when the laws approving the programs were passed.
“They are legal,” Hagel said of those laws, “and they do protect the United States.”
Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, has told Congress the classified surveillance programs have prevented more than 50 terrorist plots since the 9/11 attacks.
Snowden has not been seen in public since arriving in Russia June 23 from Hong Kong, where, despite a U.S. request that he be detained there, was allowed to board a flight to Moscow.
“We’re very disappointed in the Chinese government in how they’ve handled this,” Hagel said, adding that both countries could have chosen to cooperate.
“And this was an occasion, I think, where we had an opportunity to do that,” Hagel added. “But that was the decision of the Chinese government.” Even so, Hagel said, he did not foresee a disruption in Sino-U.S. military relations.
While steps are always being taken to evaluate insider threats and to counter them through upgraded systems and improved technologies, Hagel said, in the end, little can be done if someone with a top-secret security clearance is willing to break the law.
“I don’t know how you can ever completely 100-percent guard against someone who wants to break the law and violate the statutes and the interests of our nation,” Hagel said.