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Snowden and NSA clash over release of internal email exchange

Snowden and NSA clash over release of internal email exchange

Back-and-forth dispute over whether or not Snowden complained through internal channels about surveillance concerns.

The National Security Agency on Thursday released an April 2013 email exchange between former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the NSA Office of General Counsel, saying it was the only correspondence it had from Snowden and that the email “did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse.”

From Reuters:

An email exchange released on Thursday shows Edward Snowden questioned the U.S. National Security Agency’s legal training programs, but provides no evidence the former contractor complained internally about vast NSA surveillance programs that he later leaked to the media.

Snowden responded in an email to the Washington Post that the release by U.S. officials “is incomplete.”

The release of the April 2013 emails between Snowden and the NSA’s legal office is the latest round in a battle between Snowden, who casts himself as a crusading whistleblower, and U.S. security officials, who say he failed to report his concerns to superiors before acting.

The release of Snowden’s 2013 email exchange with NSA’s legal office came a day after the former NSA contractor’s televised interview Wednesday evening with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.  In that interview, Snowden told Williams that he tried to go through the proper channels inside the NSA before leaking documents to members of the press.

From NBC News:

“I actually did go through channels, and that is documented. The NSA has records, they have copies of emails right now to their office of general counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks from me raising concerns about the NSA’s interpretations of it — legal authorities. Now, I had raised these complaints not just officially in writing through email — to these offices and — and these individuals, but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office. I did it in Fort Meade. I did it in Hawaii. And many, many of these individuals were shocked by these programs. They had never seen them themselves. And the ones who had, went, ‘You know, you’re right. These are things that are really concerning. And these aren’t things that we should be doing. Maybe we were going too far here. But if you say something about this, they’re going to destroy you. Do you know what happens to people who stand up and talk about this?”

“What did you report?” Williams asked. “What was the response?”

“So,” Snowden said, “I reported that there were — real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities. And I went even further in this — to say that they could be unconstitutional — that they were sort of abrogating our model of government in a way that empowered presidents to override our statutory laws. And this was made very clear. And the response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, ‘You should stop asking questions.’ And these are — these are recent records. I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these — one of these communications with a legal office. And in fact I’m so sure that these communications exist that I’ve called on Congress to write a letter to the NSA to — to verify that they do. Write to the office of general counsel and say, “Did Mr. Snowden — ever communicate any concerns about the NSA’s interpretation of its legal authorities?”

The April 2013 email exchange between Snowden and NSA’s legal office was then posted Thursday at the Tumblr blog of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  A statement included in that posting read as follows:

NSA has now explained that they have found one email inquiry by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed. The e-mail did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed.

There was not additional follow-up noted. The e-mail will be released later today. There are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations. We have searched for additional indications of outreach from him in those areas and to date have not discovered any engagements related to his claims.

[See the email exchange here and here.]

The April 2013 email exchange occurred several months after Snowden first contacted journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, in December 2012 and January 2013 respectively, according to this timeline from NBC News. Snowden began sending documents to Poitras, Greenwald and to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in May 2013, the timeline reads.

The Washington Post on Thursday subsequently contacted Snowden to get his response to the NSA’s statement and release of the 2013 emails.  Here’s an excerpt of Snowden’s response:

The NSA’s new discovery of written contact between me and its lawyers – after more than a year of denying any such contact existed – raises serious concerns. It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that “after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.


Still, the fact is that I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions – as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied. Just as when the NSA claimed it followed German laws in Germany just weeks before it was revealed that they did not, or when NSA said they did not engage in economic espionage a few short months before it was revealed they actually did so on a regular and recurring basis, or even when they claimed they had “no domestic spying program” before we learned they collected the phone records of every American they could, so too are today’s claims that “this is only evidence we have of him reporting concerns” false.

Snowden indicated that he’d also previously raised concerns about the NSA’s surveillance activities with former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team.

Read Snowden’s response in its entirety here.

[Featured image: NBC News video]


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David in DC | May 30, 2014 at 9:19 am

He stole hundreds of thousands of pages of secret documents and didn’t take copies of emails he sent that would prove he was a whistleblower? Really?

I wonder if he did send those emails, why they would have left him in the position he was in.

So now the NSA is leaking itself…

Q: Snowden vs. The NSA. Who’s lying?
A: Yes.

Not sure what Snowden did or didn’t do; whether he’s lying or not–not sure how anyone can know.

What I do know is that weighing what comes out of the NSA with any level of credibility is incredulous.

    Neo in reply to Browndog. | May 30, 2014 at 11:13 am

    “My suspicion is that the extraterrestrials, most likely Vulcans, were probably in touch with him in Geneva,” Obi-Wan Kenobi said, speculating they made “first contact” in 2007 while Snowden was in Switzerland. “I can’t prove it.

It broke my heart to hear my mother and father (94 years old, and 96) saying that they misjudged him and that he has provided a public service. I begged them, not in a soft voice and not for the first time, to keep that filth (not necessarily Snowden) out of their home.

Snowden is how old, and has what education, and he is now saying he made a legal determination that the behavior of the NSA was “unconstitutional.” And, the dog ate his emails. I would say his credibility is in issue.

Consider the source (both of them).

MouseTheLuckyDog | May 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm

What has happened is that Snowden now realizes that Russia is not a great place to live in, and that Anna Chapman is a lousy lay. So he wants to return.

“Gee, Mr. Snowden, I’m TERRIBLY sorry, but for SOME reason our records have been disturbed by parties unknown! (Show Shocked Face) Perhaps in time, we’ll be able to find, in the few files which you did not steal from our agency, enough evidence to corroborate your claims…”

I think it bares repeating, multiple completely independent authorities from internal to the NSA to Congressional Oversight, to a FISA court layer to the AG himself (Aschroft) and now even a Federal Court judge have found what the NSA has done UnConstitutional and illegal. The fact the administration has destroyed the lives of people whistle blowing over this with falsifying evidence, harassment, personal destruction and lying to the US Supreme Court show that the NSA + DOJ is a defacto admission that what they are doing is illegal.

No one doubts that the NSA is gathering valuable information with this program. As a matter of fact its too valuable to let the government have it. That’s why we have the 4th Amendment. What they are doing is completely illegal, not only do they simply don’t have the power to do it, the Government is expressly forbidden from doing blanket searches and seizures of people documents and information. Regardless of how nobel the reason is for doing it, once that power is in the wrong hands it becomes practically an unlimited grant of power.