Snowden decries 'culture of immunity' for law-breakers

President Obama’s willingness to stand behind spy leaders even as they lie to Congress will define his legacy, according to Edward Snowden.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Nation published Monday, the government leaker said that Americans should be disgraced at Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s unquestioned support for intelligence officials.

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“The surveillance revelations are critically important because they revealed that our rights are being redefined in secret, by secret courts that were never intended to have that role. ... However, as important as that is, I don’t think it is the most important thing,” he told the magazine.

“I think it is the fact that the director of national intelligence gave a false statement to Congress under oath, which is a felony,” he said, referring to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who denied to Congress that the U.S. government was collecting information about millions of Americans.

Later, documents ilegally leaked by Snowden showed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting virtually all Americans’ phone records as well as many Internet communications.

Clapper has since said that he responded in the “least untruthful” manner possible, but has yet to be formally reprimanded for the statement.

Snowden, who is living in Russia and facing criminal charges in the United States that could put him in jail for decades, said Clapper and other officials should be punished for their actions.

“If we allow our officials to knowingly break the law publicly and face no consequences, we’re instituting a culture of immunity, and this is what I think historically will actually be considered the biggest disappointment of the Obama administration,” Snowden said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be related to social or economic policies; it’s going to be the fact that he said let’s go forward, not backward, in regard to the violations of law that occurred under the Bush administration.”

The former government contractor has long portrayed the leaking of government documents as an act of patriotism, and says he's disappointed that Congress hasn't taken stronger action to curb the NSA.

“In the United States, there hasn’t been much legislative change on the surveillance issue, although there are some tepid proposals,” he said.

One prominent proposal, The USA Freedom Act, would end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, among other measures. However, it does not touch many of the programs unveiled by Snowden, such as the “backdoor” snooping on Americans through a law designed to target foreigners.

“In the United States, we’ve got this big debate, but we’ve got official paralysis — because they’re the ones who had their hand caught most deeply in the cookie jar,” Snowden said.