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NSA releases email it says weakens Snowden's claim

By David E. Sanger

New York Times

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:22 p.m. HST, May 29, 2014


WASHINGTON » The National Security Agency on Thursday released what it said was the sole internal email from Edward J. Snowden before he fled with a trove of agency secrets, and officials asserted that the message undercut his argument that he protested the legality of surveillance programs before he released any of the documents he stole to journalists.

The email to the NSA general counsel's office, dated April 8, 2013, makes no reference to the government's bulk collection of telephone data or other surveillance or cyberprograms. Nor does it raise concerns about violations of privacy.

Instead, Snowden was seeking clarification about the hierarchy of laws governing the NSA, based on what he had learned in an agency training course about privacy protection rules for handling intercepted information.

By the time the email was sent, Snowden, who was a private contractor and not an agency employee, had already implanted software in the NSA system that was copying its files automatically. Two months later, the first of those files were made public by journalists who had received them from Snowden.

The NSA released the email in response to Snowden's assertion in an interview with Brian Williams of NBC News that was broadcast on Wednesday night. In the interview, Snowden said he had raised complaints both in Hawaii and at the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, about "real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities."

Now living in Moscow to avoid prosecution in the United States, he said the response he received was "more or less" that he "should stop asking questions."

On Thursday, in an email exchange with The Washington Post, Snowden said the NSA's response was a "clearly tailored and incomplete leak" released for "political advantage." He suggested that for the full story, the White House should "ask my former colleagues, management and the senior leadership team."

The email the NSA released is from "ejsnowdnsa.ic.gov," an address that was taken out of service last year. It cites information in the NSA course about what he calls "The Hierarchy of Governing Authorities and Documents." Snowden lists the order of legal authorities this way:

— "US constitution

— Federal Statutes/Presidential Executive Orders (EO)

— Department of Defense (DoD) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) regulations

— NSA/CSS Directives and Policies."

Lesser regulations appear further down. Snowden was concerned about the second line because "it seems to imply Executive Orders have the same precedence as law."

A few days later, a lawyer in the NSA general counsel's office wrote back in an email that begins "Hello Ed" and continues: "Executive Orders (EOs) have the 'force and effect of law.' That said, you are correct that EO's cannot override a statute."

Officials who have examined the email said Thursday that they suspected Snowden was trying to determine whether some espionage activities may have been conducted under executive orders instead of laws passed by Congress. "But we don't know for sure," said an official who requested anonymity in discussing classified material. "We do know we can't find other complaints."

The email was released after the government again found itself on the defensive concerning Snowden's revelations. Some administration officials had argued for releasing the document much earlier to rebut Snowden's case that he should be regarded as a whistle-blower.

His interview with Williams was not the first time Snowden said that he had tried to complain about NSA programs.

"I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than 10 distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them," he said in testimony presented to the European Parliament in March. "As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the U.S. government, I was not protected by U.S. whistle-blower laws."

The Obama administration had resisted releasing the unclassified email from Snowden. But its hand was forced after the NBC interview, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told administration officials that her panel would release the email.

"I believe this transparency is important and should also be applied to the communication that Snowden referenced in his recent interview," she said in a statement. Feinstein has been among his greatest critics.

The Obama administration also denied that Snowden had been trained as a spy, as he told Williams on NBC. The NSA's mission is to intercept and decode signals intelligence and, increasingly, to conduct cyberoperations. But while its employees frequently operate undercover, they do not conduct operations the way CIA officers do. The national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, told Charlie Rose in an interview Thursday night that "we have no idea" where Snowden's "assertion comes from."







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bwaikiki wrote:
Would believe Snowden over NSA any day.
on May 29,2014 | 07:35PM
RichardCory wrote:
I would believe Hitler over the NSA.
on May 29,2014 | 07:36PM
OldDiver wrote:
At this point who cares. Stop spying on American citizens.
on May 29,2014 | 07:36PM
Tempmanoa wrote:
Except those citizens involved with or communicating with suspected terrorists or foreign agencies connected with espionage, or other actions against the interests of the United States, or involved with suspected terrorists. So long as it is done in accordance with the laws establishing the NSA.
on May 29,2014 | 07:56PM
localguy wrote:
NSA spin doctors are working overtime trying to cover up willful NSA incompetence. Not going to happen. NSA had a chance to fix their problem, didn't even see it right in front of their face. NSA = No Smart Americans. Sad.
on May 29,2014 | 08:38PM
aomohoa wrote:
I think people are going to have to realize that Snowden is telling the truth. The NSA is a Black budget agency out of control. Now an embarrassment to the USA. Probably reading our comments right now. Oh wait, they are gathering so much ridiculous information they have no way to interpret it. What a waste of money and time. Why don't they spend their resources figuring out how to work with TSA and maybe they will really catch "the bad guys."
on May 29,2014 | 08:49PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
NSA: "Well, yeah, we are the most sophisticated intelligence organization on Planet Earth but we're not sure we can find some emails sent on our own systems or not."

Sure, I believe that.


on May 29,2014 | 09:08PM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Until they need to leak one that hurts the whistleblower. How embarrassed are they going to be when he turns around and releases some of the others?
on May 30,2014 | 06:42AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
And it took NSA a week to find the one email. Inspires confidence.
on May 30,2014 | 12:26PM
HanabataDays wrote:
It's pretty easy to see where Snowden learned the tactic of "selective release". The NSA's not shy to produce evidence that tends to exculpate them. But something tells me if Snowden sent the e-mails he claimed, he was shrewd enough to preserve copies. Then it turns into a swearing match, and the NSA's at a distinct disadvantage there because their believability's at an all-time low.
on May 30,2014 | 12:34AM
sloturle wrote:
this just shows how much nsa is trying to get back at edward does it really matter if he sent an email or not?
on May 30,2014 | 01:18AM
Tempmanoa wrote:
The ACLU and liberal groups have led the fight against the NSA since the beginning-- until Snowden their view was not popular. But there is still more we need to be aware of-- that is that the NSA is a government agency in name only, like so much of our intelligence and our defense, it is a bunch of huge private contractors run amok. Virtually every important technical branch of the defense department, the military services are contracted out-- the search for the Malaysian flight-- Navy ship, but private contractor, satellites-- private contractor, Snowden-- private contractor, even non-military like government websites-- huge Companies like CGI from Canada (the same one robbing us for the Board of Water Supply billing site).
on May 30,2014 | 01:21AM
Mike174 wrote:
Of course NSA would never manipulate data... or number of e-mails... or what was in them... 1984 is upon us!
on May 30,2014 | 07:10AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Snowden, your fifteen minutes of fame are over. Nothing more to see here folks, move along. What a loser, a pathetic employee and traitor to his country.
on May 30,2014 | 08:07AM
AhiPoke wrote:
If a major issue is EO's versus law, we currently have a president who believes he can bypass congress and govern with EO's. No matter if you're conservative or liberal we should all be alarmed as our consitution specifically created three arms of government (executive, congress, supreme court) as a form of checks and balance. The president should never have the power of a king.
on May 30,2014 | 08:23AM
Anonymous wrote:
The Congress no more power to control POTUS !!!
on May 30,2014 | 12:23PM
mitsuni wrote:
Everyone here bad mouthing the NSA really needs to get a history lesson on how the NSA evolved and what it has contributed to our national security. I guess much of it is classified hence people don't understand and will never know the vital role it has filled through the decades. As for the NSA spying on Americans, it is illegal and prosecuted. Unless a US person is engaged in very specific actvitities illegal activities that pose a threat to national security. You have to realize that the US government knows that people cheat on their spouses, their taxes and in getting benefits and such, as well as looking at and making pornography. They are way too busy to get into things like this. You really think that they have the time means or energy to check up on such trivial stuff. Read the laws and understand that the government takes Intelligencre Oversight very seriously, Americans are protected by laws that govern intelligence collection and they are enforced. Snowden is a narcicist and a traitor.
on May 30,2014 | 01:54PM
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