Charlie Rose talks to ... Michael Chertoff

The former Secretary of Homeland Security and chairman of the Chertoff Group discusses NSA leaker Edward Snowden

Based on what you know, has Snowden been speaking with the Chinese or Russian authorities about U.S. surveillance? I wouldn’t be surprised if [the Russian authorities] were debriefing him or trying to. I don’t know if he’s carrying data with him. I don’t know whether the Russians have sought to obtain that data. And by the way, he might not have a lot of choice in the matter. I’ve got to tell you that, if he’s got data on laptops or thumb drives, I’d be really surprised if a lot of that didn’t wind up in the hands of the Chinese army or intelligence community. I’d worry about, as a traveler, whether my own data would be captured unwittingly. In this case, you know, he’s advertised himself.

Do you think the U.S. handled this well? They were perhaps a little slow revoking his passport. One criticism I think is unfair is people saying, “Well, the president should be out there talking about it.” That’s not right. The president shouldn’t dignify this guy by making it seem like he’s a presidential-level issue.

What would you be doing? The most important thing is this, which has always been the approach with fugitives: to tell him that the United States will never forget. Wherever he goes, even if he finds a safe haven, if he ever sticks his head up, even if it’s 30 years from now, we will hunt the guy down, and we will bring him to justice.

He’s indicated that he’s left a lot of damaging data to be released if he disappears. It’s possible. But it’s also been known to be the case that these guys bluff. Some of the WikiLeaks folks would make assertions about incredibly damaging stuff. Then that stuff, when it came out, if it came out at all, was ho-hum. Although he planned this in advance, I can’t say it’s been extremely well thought out.

Some are saying that Hong Kong betrayed the U.S. — led officials to believe they might cooperate, then simply let him go. If he was going to go to Ecuador, why he started out going to Hong Kong is a huge mystery to me. I could imagine someone at an operation level thinking this is a normal extradition, then someone at a senior political level saying, “We don’t want to extradite this guy. We just want to get him out of here.” He’s becoming a hot potato. He may find that fewer and fewer people see the value in having him land in their country permanently.

Has the National Security Agency made its case about what it was doing? When you look at what’s being reported, you see several things. You see that there actually is no credible allegation of illegality. The legal structure that allows for the collection of metadata — like who you’re calling and how long you called — has been authorized repeatedly. And this was not snuck into the law quietly. Anybody who claims that he didn’t understand there was a legal structure here was just not paying attention. In the end, you have a lot of heat and comparatively little light shed on a program which is overseen by the court and by Congress. This is what the civil liberties people are always asking for. If you’re going to say that’s not good enough, then what is good enough?

Watch Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV Weeknights at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET


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