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Edward Snowden Interview

Snowden Strikes Back at NSA, Emails NBC News

Image: Brian Williams speaks with Edward Snowden during an exclusive interview.

Brian Williams speaks with Edward Snowden during an exclusive interview. NBC News

Fugitive Edward Snowden on Friday challenged the NSA's insistence that it has no evidence he tried to raise concerns about the agency's surveillance activity before he began leaking government documents to reporters, calling the response a "clearly tailored and incomplete leak ... for a political advantage."

"The NSA's new discovery of written contact between me and its lawyers -- after more than a year of denying any such contact existed - raises serious concerns," Snowden said in an email Friday to NBC News. "It reveals as false the NSA's claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that '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.'"

Snowden's email followed Thursday's release by the U.S. Office of the Director of Intelligence of an email exchange between Snowden and the NSA's Office of the General Counsel. The Washington Post received and published a similar response from Snowden on Thursday.

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That email, dated April 5 , 2013, and bearing the subject line "Question for OGC re. OVSC1800 Course Content," was a request for clarification about a legal point in training materials for a mandatory course regarding policies and procedures restricting domestic surveillance by the NSA. Its primary focus was on the question of whether an executive order issued by the president could trump a federal statute.

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The NSA has said it is the only email or other communication that it has found in which Snowden communicated with agency officials about the NSA's surveillance program, countering his assertion that he had sent multiple "emails … to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks … raising concerns about the NSA's interpretations of its legal authorities," as he claimed in an exclusive interview with NBC News' Brian Williams that aired Wednesday night.

NSA Edward Snowden email exchange
The NSA released this Edward Snowden email to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed, Thursday May 29, 2014. Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Two U.S. officials who spoke to NBC News about the email prior to its release noted that it asked a question about how the NSA was interpreting its legal justifications for domestic surveillance, but had not "raised concerns" about the NSA's practices.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made a similar point in a statement on Thursday, saying that the email does not support Snowden's account.

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"The email, provided to the committee by the NSA on April 10, 2014, poses a question about the relative authority of laws and executive orders — it does not register concerns about NSA's intelligence activities, as was suggested by Snowden in an NBC interview this week," she said.

But in his statement on Friday, Snowden fired back, saying:

"Today's release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate's Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities - such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major U.S. Internet companies -- are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.

"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.

"Ultimately, whether my disclosures were justified does not depend on whether I raised these concerns previously. That's because the system is designed to ensure that even the most valid concerns are suppressed and ignored, not acted upon. The fact that two powerful Democratic Senators - Ron Wyden and Mark Udall - knew of mass surveillance that they believed was abusive and felt constrained to do anything about it underscores how futile such internal action is -- and will remain -- until these processes are reformed.

"Still, the fact is that I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions - as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied. Just as when the NSA claimed it followed German laws in Germany only weeks before it was revealed that they did not, or when NSA said they did not engage in economic espionage a few short months before it was revealed they actually did so on a regular and recurring basis, or even when NSA claimed they had "no domestic spying program" right before we learned they collected the phone records of every American they could, so too are today's claims that "this is only evidence we have of him reporting concerns" false.

"Now that they have finally begun producing emails, I am confident that truth will become clear rather sooner than later."