Bill Clinton Calls Edward Snowden An 'Imperfect Messenger'

(Matthew Cole/Capital Gazette/AP Photo)

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has been characterized as a traitor, a hacker and a whistleblower. Bill Clinton prefers to think of him as an "imperfect messenger."

The former president - who in previous interviews has appeared hesitant to criticize Snowden - weighed in on the surveillance debate during remarks at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday afternoon.

"The Snowden case has raised all these questions about whether we can use technology to protect national security without destroying the liberty which includes the right to privacy of basically innocent bystanders," he said.

Clinton even suggested that the privacy-versus-security debate creates a "false choice," and argued that with a big enough investment, the U.S. could design technology that would allow both aims to coexist.

"It seems to me clear, based on the people that I talk to, that we could be designing these systems - if we're prepared to spend the money to do it - in a way that dramatically enhances both … privacy and our national security," he added.

"We cannot change the character of our country or compromise the future of our people by creating a national security state which takes away the liberty and privacy we propose to advance," he continued. "Don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg."

During his speech to the midshipmen at the academy, Clinton didn't discuss his wife's presidential ambitions. However, he did reflect on his own path to the White House.

"One of the reasons I got to be president was I was born without a television," Clinton said.

Clinton said that as a youngster anecdotes told around his family's dinner table replaced hours of TV programming, which helped him refine the art of storytelling - an "undervalued" skill, in Clinton's own estimation.