The National Security Agency has released an email from Edward Snowden sent last April to the Office of General Counsel that refutes the whistleblower’s contention that he notified authorities about the NSA’s surveillance reach.
In an accompanying statement, the NSA said the message is the only one Snowden sent the office and concerned a training course the contractor had completed; it addressed none of the abuses revealed in the documents published in various news outlets since last June.
Snowden said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired Wednesday night that he went “through channels” before deciding to downloads what is reportedly hundreds of thousands of pages of secret documents that explain the agency’s surveillance activities.
“The NSA has 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 its legal authority,” Snowden said. “I have raised these complaints not just officially in writing through email to these offices, but to my supervisors, to my colleagues.”
Snowden added that he raised these concerns during his time in Fort Meade at NSA headquarters, as well as while he was stationed in Hawaii before fleeing for Hong Kong and eventually Moscow where he is currently living and has been granted temporary asylum.
“Many of these individuals were shocked by these programs,” Snowden said. “They had never seen it themselves and the ones who had would say ‘You’re right, these are things that are really concerning…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?’”
Snowden told NBC he received a response to the effect suggesting he stop asking such questions of authorities.
The NSA’s statement today said: “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,” the statement said. “There was not additional follow-up noted. 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.”
This is not the first time Snowden said he had tried to get the ear of authorities before deciding to take the course of action he chose. In March, Snowden testified to the European Parliament that he reported the issues he had with the agency’s programs to more than 10 officials. The Washington Post reported at the time that Snowden testified he was concerned about the lack of whistleblower protection available to him.
“As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process,” Snowden said.
Snowden’s hourlong interview was conducted in a Moscow hotel and the discussion ranged from conversations about his background, whether he was trained as a spy, his brief military service after September 11, and his potential return to the United States.