MS. IFILL: Seven years ago, we sat at this table and talked about the discovery of a vast secret program the National Security Agency was using to collect phone records of American citizens. The president then, George W. Bush, defended it. The American people mostly yawned. And here we are again, with one key difference. We have the identity of the person who leaked the information. What’s more? He’s fled to China. So the conversation has switched from the existence of the program to the motives of the leaker. Why is that, how did that happen, Karen?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, for one think, one reason that switched it is was so surprising to discover that this person who had all this access to all these government secrets –
MS. IFILL: Edward Snowden.
MS. TUMULTY: Edward Snowden, who had the capacity to leak them, turns out to be a 29-year-old contract employee of the NSA. His actual employer was a consulting firm, Booz Allen. And he’d only been on the job for three months. So that was one reason that it was just so surprising, shocking. But I also think that Edward Snowden has in many cases become the Rorschach test of how conflicted this country is because you have people as diverse as, you know, Glenn Beck, the conservative commentator, Michael Moore, the liberal filmmaker, even, you know, Daniel Ellsberg to whom he is –he’s been – calling him a hero, and yet, you also had basically the entire congressional leadership coming down, calling for him to be tried as a criminal.
MS. IFILL: And is that happening in part because – by turning the conversation to whether what he did was illegal, Congress no longer has the conversation about whether it’s lawful what they did, which is allowing this program to exist?
MS. TUMULTY: You know, it appears that everything that was done was in fact lawful. So the question is what should be lawful and, you know, how do we balance our, you know, desire for security with our desire for privacy. And of course, nothing has been more – you know – brings that point home more clearly than to watch the president of the United States, who, as a senator in 2007, said that it was a false choice to suggest that there is some choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. Well, this week, what he was saying was that they were striking the balance between the need to keep people safe and their concerns about privacy because there are tradeoffs involved.