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Republicans blast Obama administration over handling of Snowden

Protesters in support of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), chant slogans before marching to U.S. Consulate
Protesters in support of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), chant slogans before marching to U.S. Consulate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Republican lawmakers criticized the Obama administration on Tuesday for its handling of the case of Edward Snowden, chiding President Barack Obama for failing to get Russia and China to cooperate with the United States.

Representative Paul Ryan, speaking on CBS, also questioned how a low-level private National Security Agency contractor like Snowden was allowed access to vast amounts of top-secret U.S. intelligence.

"It just reveals an administration that seems more and more incompetent by the day," Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, told CBS's "This Morning" program.

The criticism comes as Chinese and Russian officials rejected American accusations they helped Snowden, who revealed Washington's phone and Internet monitoring programs, escape prosecution in the United States.

Snowden identified himself as the source of the revelations while hiding out in Hong Kong, and flew to Russia last weekend despite a U.S. order for his extradition and arrest. It was unclear on Tuesday whether he remained in Russia.

"How is it that our security clearances are so low that something like this can happen?" Ryan asked on CBS.

"Once we've discovered that this person has stolen our secrets, has leaked them, you think we'd do a better job of following up with them in China and these other countries," he added.

Sen. John McCain, a frequent critic of Obama's foreign and military policy, said the bungled Snowden case was the latest in a series of incidents that show growing U.S. weakness abroad.

"For nearly five years now we have sent a signal to the world that we're leading from behind, that we are impotent, that we don't act when we say that we're going to," McCain, an Arizona Republican, told CNBC on Tuesday.

He cited the administration's handling of Syria's chemical weapons use as well as tensions with Iran as other areas where U.S. weaknesses were showing.

"We need to show more leadership," McCain told CNN.

Ryan also urged the administration to press harder for more successful international cooperation on Snowden.

"If we're not going to convince allies or other countries to actually help us with this, that doesn't speak very well to how we're being viewed in the world," he told CBS. "And if we try to leverage our credibility and we are not successful, that does not help our image whatsoever."

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)

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