Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz criticized National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden on Thursday during a debate with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, who published Snowden’s first interview since being granted asylum in Russia earlier this year.
“He could have easily gone on 60 Minutes, and disclosed the existence of the program without disclosing the contents, some of which is extremely damaging to our national security,” Dershowitz told Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish, arguing that he could have released the information he compiled while working at the agency in a classified debriefing, instead of going to the Post and The Guardian.
In particular, Dershwoitz slammed Snowden for bringing to light the agency’s surveillance activities against other countries, saying they “raise some questions, but [were] not unconstitutional.
“We have an absolute right under our Constitution to listen to the prime minister of Israel, to listen to the chancellor of Germany,” Dershowitz said. “That is not a constitutional issue, and yet he disclosed — or people working on his behalf — the fact that we are using surveillance abroad, outside the country, where the Constitution does not apply.”
Dershowitz also argued that Snowden failed his criteria for criminal civil disobedience because of his departure from U.S. soil, and because his actions were not “a last resort,” a point Gellman contested.
“I’ve been reporting on national security for 20 years,” Gellman told Smerconish. “I’m not familiar with any case of a national security whistleblower ever, in my 20 years of covering this stuff, who was able to make an impact inside or who wasn’t crushed by the system for bringing his complaints.”
Gellman also pointed out Snowden’s remarks in the interview that he talked to both co-workers and multiple supervisors about his worries with the NSA’s data-mining, which the agency has denied.
“He said he thought they were unlawful,” Gellman said. “He said, also, that he thought the American people would react very badly to their disclosure — which is actually a very brave thing to say when you’re about to leak it yourself.”
Dershowitz also criticized Snowden’s statements calling his federal non-disclosure agreement a civil contract and saying he fulfilled his oath to the Constitution because, “The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy.”
“It’s nonsense to say he signed a civil contract,” Dershowitz said. “It is a crime, and he knew it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have run away.”
“He’s got a broader set of concerns than just domestic surveillance,” Gellman said in response. “He was looking for a big national debate about any kind of mass surveillance, any kind of people without specific reason to believe that they’ve either done something wrong or that they have a legitimate target of foreign intelligence.”
“But that is not the law,” Dershowitz said, cutting in.
“He doesn’t say that it’s about the law,” Gellman answered. “He says it’s a matter of policy.”
Watch the discussion, as aired on MSNBC on Thursday, below.