Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday defended the newly disclosed electronic surveillance programs operated by the government and called the former National Security Agency contract worker who disclosed them a criminal and a traitor.
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Mr. Cheney, a forceful advocate for the classified programs when he was in office, said Edward Snowden, a Booz Allen Hamilton employee who was assigned to an NSA facility in Hawaii, had severely undermined U.S. intelligence capabilities. Mr. Snowden, who flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii last month with a trove of documents about top-secret telephone and Internet surveillance programs, has since revealed that the United States had penetrated the computer systems of China and numerous other countries.
"I think it's one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States," Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Cheney said Snowden had violated U.S. law and might be a Chinese spy.
"I'm suspicious because he went to China," said Mr. Cheney, who flew to Washington from his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., on Saturday to appear on the Fox program. "That's not a place where you would ordinarily want to go if you are interested in freedom, liberty and so forth. It raises questions whether or not he had that kind of connection before he did this."
Mr. Snowden had written in earlier Internet postings that he was interested in Chinese language and culture and suggested that a posting in the country could be a good career move. He said he chose Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, because of its history of free speech.
President Barack Obama has defended the electronic eavesdropping programs, saying they were closely monitored and were a useful tool in fighting terrorism. But Mr. Cheney said Mr. Obama could not mount an effective defense because of investigations into the Internal Revenue Service treatment of Tea Party groups and continuing questions about the terrorist attacks on an American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
"He's got no credibility," Mr. Cheney said.
The White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation," said leaking information about American surveillance capabilities "in effect gives the playbook to those who would like to get around our techniques and our practices and obviously that's not in our interest in the long haul."
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, also defended the surveillance programs on Sunday, saying they were tightly monitored by Congress, the courts and the executive branch. He appeared on the CNN program "State of the Union."
Mr. Rogers said most of the information is kept in a "lockbox" and not scrutinized unless it correlated with activity of known or suspected foreign terrorists.