A day after Edward Snowden told NBC News that he'd tried to raise concerns about the NSA's spying programs internally (and quietly) before going public, the whistleblower and the Obama administration have different accounts of what steps he actually took.
On Thursday, the government shared with the Washington Post a single email from Snowden, dated April, 2013, that in their view raised "no concerns about any particular NSA program or law." The government released the email earlier on Thursday, presumably to push back at Snowden's claims on Wednesday.
However, Snowden told the paper something else entirely, namely that there's a lot more they aren't sharing:
“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...it will not take long to receive an answer."
The question at issue is whether Snowden tried to reform the government's spying programs through internal means before making a big splash in the press, a topic of focus on last night's interview. NBC's own reporting uncovered a single email — presumably the one obtained by the Post on Thursday — corroborating his story. On Wednesday, NBC said they had a pending FOIA request out on Snowden's additional correspondence. However, U.S. officials told the Post that the single email is the extent of the written record of Snowden's complaint.
In response, Snowden told the Post that the officials were omitting written missives to "NSA compliance officials," among other things. As the Huffington Post notes, the NSA said as recently as six months ago that there was no paper trail to Snowden's claims that he raised matters internally first.
In the single email we do have, Snowden asks the following legal question of the agency's General Counsel, pertaining to information on legal authority that he was given during a training session: "I’m not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply Executive Orders have the same precedence as law." The response: “Executive orders . . . have the ‘force and effect of law.’ That said, you are correct that E.O.s cannot override a statute.” As one observer noted, it seems Snowden was trying to get an official answer, on the record, as to whether the power of presidential orders outweighs established law. It does not seem to address NSA issues, but it may or may not be his only correspondence.
Read more at the Washington Post.