Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden and NSA locked in war of words over 'whistle-blower' e-mail

Former contractor insists he raised alarm about vast surveillance programmes and says release of redacted internal messages is an attempt to discredit him

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 11:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 4:40pm

Edward Snowden has hit back after the US National Security Agency released an email exchange it says proves that he questioned its legal training programmes, but provides no evidence the former contractor complained internally about vast surveillance programmes that he later leaked to the media.

"If the White House is interested in the whole truth, rather than the NSA’s clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage, it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities," Snowden wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

"It will not take long to receive an answer."

The release on Thursday of the April 2013 e-mails 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 US security officials, who say he failed to report his concerns to superiors before acting.

In an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, Snowden said he had raised alarms at multiple levels about the NSA’s broad collection of phone, e-mail and internet connections.

"I have raised the complaints not just officially in writing through e-mail to these offices and these individuals but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office," Snowden told the network.

"Many, many of these individuals were shocked by these programmes," Snowden said, adding that he was advised: "If you say something about this, they’re going to destroy you."

The e-mails were first released by the office of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In a statement, the NSA 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."

"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," it said.

The e-mail exchange appears to be the first internal communication by Snowden, while he was working for the NSA, to be publicly released.

In an April 5, 2013, e-mail to the NSA’s Office of General Counsel, Snowden questioned the contents of a mandatory legal training course.

The course, he wrote, cited the US Constitution as the nation’s top legal authority, followed by "Federal Statutes/Presidential Executive Orders (EO)."

"I’m not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply Executive Orders have the same precedence as law," Snowden wrote. "Could you please clarify? Thank you very much, Ed."

An unidentified official in the General Counsel’s office wrote back three days later that executive orders, issued by a US president, "have ‘the force and effect of law.’ That said, you are correct that E.O.s cannot override a statute."

Snowden accessed what US officials say is roughly 1.5 million classified documents and leaked many to news media. The documents exposed highly classified eavesdropping programmes, including one to collect details of, but not the actual content of, Americans’ telephone calls.

Snowden left the United States for Hong Kong last May, before he was granted temporary asylum by Russia. He was later indicted in the United States under the Espionage Act.