New revelations appear to confirm government leaker Edward Snowden’s claim that he tried to bring his concerns about government surveillance up the chain of command before leaking top-secret documents to the press.
“I actually did go through channels, and that is documented,” he told NBC in an interview on Wednesday evening. “The NSA [National Security Agency] 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.”
An NSA spokesperson on Thursday confirmed that the agency has 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.”
“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,” the spokesperson added.
The NSA said it will release the email later on Thursday.
The presence of the email was first revealed by NBC during the interview with Snowden in Moscow.
In the April 5, 2013 email, he questioned the spy agency’s legal rationale for snooping on Americans and asked them to confirm the hierarchy of U.S. law, people who had read the email told NBC.
He put the Constitution on the top, and under that said that authority fell to the system of federal laws, regulations from the Defense Department, rules from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and then, on the bottom, NSA policy.
Three days later, NSA lawyers told him that the spy programs were legal and that his legal hierarchy was correct.
The news agency is filing a Freedom of Information Act request for more details.
If accurate, the messages would refute the NSA’s assessment that the leaker never tried to deal with his concerns internally.
“After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention,” an NSA spokeswoman told The Washington Post last year.
The email could also deal a blow to Snowden's critics, who allege that his willingness to go to the press before his bosses shows that he was eager to prove a point and not right a wrong.
The NSA spokesperson, however, denied that Snowden's inquiry amounted to a formal complaint about the legality of the program and said that it did not give him an excuse to go running to the news media.
“There are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations,” the spokesperson said. “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.”
This story was updated at 1:36 p.m.