NATION -- June 25, 2013 at 2:10 PM ET
Cheney Says Snowden Access 'Difficult to Understand'
Edward Snowden is believed to be hiding in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has rejected U.S. pleas to extradite the admitted NSA leaker. Photo by The Guardian via Getty Images
For former Vice President Dick Cheney, who helped set up the now-penetrated and leaked U.S. surveillance system of international phone calls and emails, the big question from the Edward Snowden affair is how did a contractor have access to such a trove of data.
Snowden is on the run after publicly revealing elements of the government's surveillance program.
Cheney spoke Monday at the South Korean-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies conference in Washington, D.C., for an event marking the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance and the armistice that ended the Korean war. His speech reiterated his harsh criticism of President Barack Obama's security and defense "policies of weakness."
Taking audience questions, the former vice president, who was looking hale and hearty other than an occasional cough, said he was concerned that the former National Security Agency employee and contractor might have more information than he already has turned over to two newspapers and possibly now to Chinese and Russian interrogators.
"It is difficult to understand how a contract employee had this kind of access," Cheney added.
Cheney said the system established under the Bush administration was set up so tightly that only the president or a designated agent could access the kind of information that Snowden seemed to possess.
Cheney added the concern that "(Snowden) may not have been the only one involved" and that he may have been fed information by someone deeper inside the NSA.
"It's a major loss," Cheney said. "The final damage is yet unknown. He has done a lot already."
But Cheney shied away from linking China to the Snowden case. Taking another question, he said on some issues such as economic espionage and hacking, China is an "adversary." But because of the growing economic relationship between China and the United States, "we want to normalize relations."
Then, he added, "many of us are cautious."
Michael D. Mosettig, PBS NewsHour foreign affairs and defense editor emeritus, watches wonks push policy in Washington's multitude of think tanks. From time to time, he writes dispatches on what those scholars and wannabe secretaries of state have in mind for Europe, Asia and Latin America.