NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden performed a "public service" by creating debate about government surveillance, according to a former US attorney general.
Eric Holder, who stepped down in 2015, told political analyst David Axelrod on CNN's The Axe Files that he agreed with the general opinion among US lawmakers that Snowden should be charged if he ever returns to the US. However, he seemed willing to be philosophical about his actions.
He suggested when it comes to surveillance that Barrack Obama put it best when he stated: "Simply because we have the ability to do something, doesn't necessarily mean that we should."
Holder said: "I remember sending memos to the president asking: ‘Do we really need to do this, given the way in which we are focusing on people's lives, and given the return we were getting, which was not in any way substantial?'
"So we can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in, and by the changes that we made."
Nevertheless, Holder still called Snowden's actions "inappropriate and illegal" and said that "he harmed American interests".
Axelrod pushed the point, suggesting that Snowden would probably say he didn't harm anything.
Holder responded: "No, that's simply not true. I know there were ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was comprised.
"There were a number of redos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in several very critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence."
As for what Snowden, who slammed Google's Allo messaging app as "dangerous" the other week, should do next, Holder believes he should "come on back" and stand trial.
"I think he's got to make a decision. He's broken the law. He needs to get lawyers, come on back and see what he wants to do," said Holder.
"Go to trial. Try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done, but I think when deciding on an appropriate sentence, a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate."
The EU does not seem to agree with the US approach having voted to offer Snowden asylum in late 2015.
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