Snowden Email Released by NSA Doesn't Claim Wrongdoing

Thursday, 29 May 2014 06:58 PM

By Jason Devaney

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The NSA declassified and released an email Thursday that Edward Snowden sent to its legal team last year, seeking to clarify the spy agency's boundaries when it came to surveillance on private citizens — but not raising any whistleblower concerns.

Snowden is currently living in asylum in Russia after he stole secret government documents pertaining to the NSA's spy program and fed them to journalists.

"Hello, I have a question regarding the mandatory USSID 18 training," Snowden wrote in the April 5, 2013, message.

Urgent: NSA Spying: Do You Approve or Disapprove? Vote Now.

"The training states the following: The Hierarchy of Governing Authorities and Documents is displayed from the highest authority to the lowest authority as follows:
U.S. Constitution
Federal Statutes/Presidential Executive Orders (EO)
Department of Defense and Office of the Director of National Intelligence Regulations
NSA/CSS Directives and Policies
USSIDS
SID Management Directives and Policies
Office Policies

"I'm not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply Executive Orders have the same precedence as law. My understanding is that EOs may be superseded by federal statute, but EOs may not override statute. Am I incorrect in this? Between EOs and laws, which have precedence?"

Snowden's question came after he underwent a training session on United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (USSID 18), which pertains to the collection of data from U.S. and foreign citizens.

Three days later, Snowden received a response from an NSA lawyer.

"Hello Ed, Executive orders (E.O.s) have the 'Force and effect of law,'" reads the response. "That said, you are correct that E.O.s cannot override a statute.

"In general, DOD and DDNI regulations are afforded similar precedence though subject matter or date could result in one having precedence over another."

The agency released the emails in response to Snowden's claim during an interview with NBC News that he shared his concerns about the legality of the NSA's spying practices with the Office of General Counsel.

"I actually did go through channels, and that is documented," Snowden told NBC. "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."

The NSA, however, released a statement Thursday in response to the claims.

"NSA has now explained that they have found one email inquiry by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed," reads the statement. "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.

"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."

Urgent: NSA Spying: Do You Approve or Disapprove? Vote Now.

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