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13 Sep, 2014 10:32

NSA denies whistleblower Snowden ‘raised concerns’ in emails

NSA denies whistleblower Snowden ‘raised concerns’ in emails

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the NSA denies that its former NSA contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden ever raised concerns in emails to colleagues to his colleagues over the agency’s surveillance work.

Interest in Edward Snowden’s past email communications with his former NSA colleagues arose following an interview Snowden gave to NBC News in May, when he said he first raised “concerns” about the NSA’s widespread surveillance programs, but was "more or less" told by his superiors to "stop asking questions."

"I actually did go through channels, and that is documented,"Snowden told NBC News's Brian Williams in Moscow, where the former NSA contractor has received asylum. "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 its legal authorities."

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In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request put forward by VICE News following the Snowden interview, NSA officials said they were unable to track down any internal emails at the agency to prove that Snowden had discussed his concerns.

David Sherman, the NSA's associate director for policy and records, described the methods the NSA used in its efforts to locate the email: “Following the unauthorized disclosures of NSA information in June 2013, NSA conducted a comprehensive investigation….and searched all of Mr. Snowden’s email available on NSA’s classified and unclassified systems,” Sherman wrote in the statement.

“This included sent, received, and deleted email, both in his inboxes still on the networks and email obtained by restoring back-up tapes from Agency networks. Multiple members of the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence read all of the collected email.”

According to Sherman, “The search did not identify any email written by Mr. Snowden in which he contacted Agency officials to raise concerns about NSA programs.”


In May, however, the NSA did release a single email Snowden sent to NSA supervisors in April 2013 in which he questioned legal protocols in training materials.

Addressed to one of his superiors, Snowden, apparently confused as to what takes precedence - executive orders or federal statutes - questions the hierarchy of authority that regulates the decision-making process.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Snowden’s email “does not register concerns about NSA's intelligence activities, as was suggested by Snowden in an NBC interview."

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Snowden fired back with a response, saying the NSA’s record of his previous communications is incomplete:

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."

Ben Wizner, Snowden's attorney, told VICE News that the issue over his client’s personal email communications is "somewhat of a red herring" since "Snowden witnessed an entire regime of surveillance and what was needed was not for higher-ups to be aware of his concerns, but for the public to be brought into the conversation."

Wizner said he thinks there is physical evidence to support Snowden's claims. But he added: "Where it is, I don't know."