Edward Snowden's decision to leak information about classified U.S. surveillance programs set back the Pentagon's push to recruit cybersecurity experts, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
"There's no question that Snowden set it back," Carter said of the effort to attract top talent from tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond for cybersecurity positions.
"It created a tremendous amount of suspicion, concern, and disinclination to engage," he aded. "I'm realistic enough to know that."
Carter's comments came Monday during an interview in Washington, D.C., with The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg about the department's approach to innovation, the state of the armed forces, the role of the U.S. military in the world and its future.
Snowden has been living in Russia for the past three years. He received asylum from Moscow after fleeing the U.S., where he's wanted for leaking information about classified intelligence programs. The spy efforts relied in part on information collected from major U.S. telecommunications and internet companies, from AT&T to Yahoo.
To many lawmakers, Snowden, a former employee of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency, in June 2013 perpetrated "the largest and most damaging public release of classified information in U.S. intelligence history," according to the a September report from the House Intelligence Committee.
To many privacy and peace advocates, he's "a national hero" for blowing the whistle on such clandestine efforts and should be pardoned by President Barack Obama, according to a White House petition that has received nearly 168,000 signatures. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Carter, meanwhile, said he doesn't approve of Snowden's actions.
"I do not condone what Edward Snowden did," he said. "There are 300 million of us in this country, and no one has the authority or the warrant to arrogate to him or herself the ability to use their position and their access to privileged information for their own purposes. That's just not on -- none of us can do that."
Carter said, "We conduct ourselves extremely carefully with respect to the collection of intelligence. That's a whole other subject to go into. But the harm done was to our international relationships, to our relationship with the technology community."
He added, "I simply have to work with that and try to build back bridges of trust and understanding and a willingness to meet people halfway, and we're doing that."