FORTUNE — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice isn’t a fan of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked a trove of classified documents detailing widespread spying by the U.S government on its citizens and allies.
“I have absolutely no respect for him,” she said Wednesday at Venture Scape, the National Venture Capital Association’s annual convention in San Francisco. “He’s not a hero, he’s a traitor.”
Rice, who also served as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor, insisted that Snowden should have gone through proper channels to report any illegal surveillance instead of going to the media. Challenged about whether the agencies would have reacted to his concerns, she demurred, saying “at least he could have tried.”
“Edward Snowden didn’t go to work for Disney,” Rice said. “What did he think the N.S.A. did?”
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Critics of the surveillance program scoff at the idea that Snowden or anyone else could have prompted a serious review of government spying through internal channels. Several members of Congress who supposedly monitored the programs have said that they were largely in dark about most of its details or lied to about the extent of the surveillance.
Rice is a polarizing figure who invariably raises the blood pressure of opponents. She played a major role in the Iraq War and the huge expansion of government surveillance, including warrantless wiretaps.
Snowden’s leaks, she said, gave a confusing picture of U.S. spying that even she couldn’t understand. “If I can’t figure out what s going on, I can guarantee you most people can’t figure out what’s going on,” she said. Still, Rice gave qualified support to a review of the current surveillance policies because, as she put it, such programs tend to go “on auto-pilot.”
“I don’t rule out the possibility that there needed to be a review or culling or stopping some of these programs,” Rice said. “But how you get that done is you don’t do it by leaking to the Guardian or Washington Post.”
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As for Snowden, who is currently in exile in Russia, Rice said he had better watch his back. Russia, which gave Snowden a temporary visa after U.S. officials withdrew his passport, doesn’t like traitors either, she said.
“If I were Edward Snowden, I’d watch what I eat,” Rice said.
Rice’s track record – particularly the surveillance part – came back to haunt her last month when Dropbox, the online file storage service, named her to its board. Users of the service attacked the company for appointing someone so closely tied to government surveillance and raised concerns about the service’s commitment to privacy.
In response to the uproar, Drew Houston, Dropbox’s chief executive, took to his company’s blog to defend Rice and her appointment.
“There’s nothing more important to us than keeping your stuff safe and secure,” he wrote. “It’s why we’ve been fighting for transparency and government surveillance reform, and why we’ve been vocal and public with our principles and values.”
“Dr. Rice understands our stance on these issues and fully supports our commitments to our users,” Houston continued.
Asked about her new role at Dropbox, Rice praised the company and its management, but didn’t address the privacy concerns involving her other than to say that privacy issues are hard and companies like Dropbox are struggling with very important issues.
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Earlier this week, Rice’s past flared up again when students and faculty at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, expressed outrage at her being chosen as commencement speaker. To defuse the situation, Rice cancelled her scheduled address.
Venture capitalists filling the room at VentureScape, the annual conference of the National Venture Capital Association, gave Rice a far warmer welcome. No one held up protest signs or jeered. In fact, Rice spoke to the choir in terms of her support for immigration reform. Silicon Valley companies widely support the effort, which would make it easier to import engineers and attract foreign entrepreneurs.
But despite intense lobbying by business interests, the immigration bill is stalled in Congress over opposition by House Republicans. They want to revise a Senate bill that would give undocumented immigrants a path to getting U.S. citizenship.
Rice, who has held a number of roles at Stanford University and is currently a professor of political science there, couched the problem in simple terms: You don’t want to chase off someone who just graduated from Stanford.