Former President George W. Bush says onetime government contractor Edward Snowden "damaged the security of the country" by leaking classified information about secret U.S. surveillance programs, but Bush declined to criticize his successor, Barack Obama.
Bush told CNN that he expects the Obama administration will "deal" with the consequences of the Snowden revelations and didn't elaborate. Snowden is believed to be staying at an international transit area of the Moscow airport after fleeing U.S. prosecution by going to Hong Kong, and then to Moscow. His next move is unclear.
Even though many have criticized the Obama administration for intruding on Americans' privacy, Bush declined to second-guess. "I don't think it does any good," he said. "It's a hard job. He's got plenty on his agenda. It's difficult. A former president doesn't need to make it any harder."
Bush said he initially authorized a National Security Agency program to keep track of Internet messages after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he defended it. "I put that program in place to protect the country," Bush said. "One of the certainties was that civil liberties were guaranteed."
Bush and his wife Laura were in Zambia, helping to renovate a health clinic, at the same time that President Obama was traveling through Africa on a separate trip.
Bush praised former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is in declining health. "His legacy will last for a long time," Bush told CNN. He acknowledged that Mandela had criticized him for invading Iraq. But Bush said, "He wasn't the only guy. It's OK. I made decisions that were the right decisions. History will ultimately judge. I never held someone's opinion against him. I didn't look at him differently because he didn't agree with me on any issue."
The former president also repeated his often-stated comment that he doesn't care about his ratings in opinion polls, which have gotten a bit better recently. He doesn't think there will be an even-handed analysis of his presidency for a long time. "I won't be around because it will take a while for the objective historians to show up," Bush said. "So I'm pretty comfortable with it. I did what I did. I know the spirit in which I did it."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.