The National Security Agency on Thursday released an internal email that Edward Snowden sent before leaving the country last year that rose questions about the legal hierarchy of orders governing the agency’s activities.
The disclosure represents the “one email inquiry” the NSA said it has found in its archives from the fugitive Snowden, who this week emphatically stated he attempted to articulate concerns within the agency before leaking top-secret documents to journalists. It is devoid of any explicit complaint and does not reference any specific surveillance program.
The email, dated April 5, 2013, was sent to the NSA’s Office of General Counsel. It reads:
And here is the second half:
And the response to Snowden:
In a statement preceding the release of the email, the NSA said the email “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.”
It added: “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.”
Snowden’s critics, including a number of lawmakers in Congress, have repeatedly lobbed allegations that his leaks are treasonous, and that he should have first brought concerns to his superiors before secretly downloading a massive trove of classified documents and fleeing to Hong Kong.
Snowden pushed back strongly on those claims during a Wednesday interview with NBC’s Brian Williams.
“One of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these communications with a legal office,” Snowden said. “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 verify that they do.”
NBC said it had independently verified with “multiple sources” that Snowden had in fact “sent at least one email” to the NSA’s lawyers in April 2013 inquiring about the agency’s legal justification for its domestic surveillance.
Snowden claimed in March he had “reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten district officials, none of whom took any action to address them.”
Ben Wizner, a legal adviser to Snowden, refuted the NSA’s posturing. He called the “whole issue a red herring.”
“The problem was not some unknown and isolated instance of misconduct,” Wizner said. “The problem was that an entire system of mass surveillance had been deployed — and deemed legal — without the knowledge or consent of the public.”
He added: “Snowden raised many complaints over many channels. The NSA is releasing a single part of a single exchange after previously claiming that no evidence existed.”
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated that an option of clemency was “not on the table” for Snowden.