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George W. Bush: Snowden ‘damaged’ the nation’s security

Former President George W. Bush said National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosures of secret government surveillance had “damaged” the nation, but said he was confident President Obama would appropriately handle the fallout.

“I think he damaged the security of the country,” said Bush of Snowden in an interview aired by CNN on Monday.

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Bush has rarely spoken on policy since leaving the Oval Office, but in the interview defended the surveillance, and said that when he began the programs during his administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he took care to ensure the right balance between privacy rights and national security. 

“I put that program in place to protect the country. One of the certainties was that civil liberties were guaranteed,” Bush said.

“I think there needs to be a balance, and as the president explained, there is a proper balance,” he added.

Snowden, a former government contractor, is facing espionage charges in the U.S. after he admitted to leaking classified documents detailing the NSA’s secret surveillance of phone and Internet traffic.

Obama has defended the programs, saying they were critical to national security and had saved American lives. But the disclosures have brought criticism from some lawmakers on Capitol Hill who say they were kept in the dark about the extent of the surveillance.

International governments have also asked Washington for answers after knowledge of programs that spy on foreigners was made public.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said he would investigate charges that the NSA spied on European Union missions.

Bush said he believed Obama “will deal” with the fallout properly, and said he didn’t want to criticize his successor.

"I don't think it does any good," said Bush. "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. Other presidents have taken different decisions; that's mine."

Snowden is currently believed to be in Moscow airport, and is seeking asylum from Ecuador, after evading an extradition request from U.S. officials. The administration has pressed Moscow to expel him, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected those calls, saying Snowden is in the transit area and out of the control of Russian officials.

Bush’s interview was conducted in Africa, where he and former first lady Laura Bush are opening a new women’s health clinic in Zambia. 

The former president also spoke about ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is battling for his life after a serious lung infection.

“Sometimes, there are leaders who come and go. His legacy will last for a long time,” Bush said of Mandela, who became his country’s first black president after spending 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid work.

Bush said he was not bothered by Mandela’s public criticisms of him over the Iraq War.

"He wasn't the only guy," said Bush. "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 an issue."

Bush said he expected future historians to fairly appraise his tenure in office.

"I won't be around, because it will take a while for the objective historians to show up," Bush said. "I'm pretty comfortable with it, I did what I did; I know the spirit in which I did it."

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