Despite White House Denials, FOIA Documents Prove Snowden Did Try To Voice Concerns With The NSA

Tyler Durden's picture

Edward Snowden's story is one that most know by now - the NSA contractor who went rogue and instead of going through available channels to voice his concerns, leaked sensitive government documents that revealed how the US surveillance state operates for all the world to see.

Or at least, that's what the government's version of the story is.

In a Vice News exclusive, based on over 800 pages of newly released documents from the NSA and countless interviews, Vice News finds that there is much more to the story that the public isn't being told. Snowden, according to Vice News, did have both email and face-to-face contact with compliance over concerns, and the available options for Snowden may not have been adequate during the time Snowden was actually working as a contractor at the NSA.

At a bare minimum, Vice News provides valuable insight into the fact that while the NSA and other government agencies put on a public face that they were "sure" only a single email sent by Snowden, the investigation missed a lot of correspondence over time, and even a critical face-to-face interaction that wasn't documented until much later.

The following helps walk through what Vice News found, however we encourage readers to read the full piece at Vice News.

We'll start by pointing out a quick aside, and that is that Vice News also found as it received the FOIA documents, that the NSA admitted that it altered emails related to its discussions about Snowden - "unavoidably" of course.

In a letter disclosed to VICE News Friday morning, Justice Department attorney Brigham Bowen said, "Due to a technical flaw in an operating system, some timestamps in email headers were unavoidably altered. Another artifact from this technical flaw is that the organizational designators for records from that system have been unavoidably altered to show the current organizations for the individuals in the To/From/CC lines of the header for the overall email, instead of the organizational designators correct at the time the email was sent."

* * *

The single email theory that the government trotted out is a bit more complex, as it involved multiple people from different departments as an answer was formulated. Everything was set in motion when Snowden clicked the "email us" link on the internal website of the NSA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) to ask his question on April 5, 2013.

Snowden clicked the "email us" link on the internal website of the NSA's Office of General Counsel (OGC) and wrote, "I have a question regarding the mandatory USSID 18 training."


United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (USSID 18) encompasses rules by which the NSA is supposed to abide in order to protect the privacy of the communications of people in the United States. Snowden was taking this and other training courses in Maryland while working to transition from a Sysadmin to an analyst position. Referring to a slide from the training program that seemed to indicate federal statutes and presidential Executive Orders (EOs) carry equal legal weight, Snowden wrote, "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."

On the morning of May 29, 2014, after Snowden had gone public, the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Robert Litt, wrote an email to high level officials with a topic saying "What to do about Edward Snowden." In it the back and forth, NSA's general counsel Rajesh De, advocated for the public release of the Snowden email because De believed it was weak enough to call Snowden's credibility into question. However, Litt disagreed - for the time being... "I'm not sure that releasing the email will necessarily prove him a liar. It is, I could argue, technically true that Snowden's email raised concerns about the NSA's interpretation of its legal authorities. As I recall, the email essentially questions a document that Snowden interpreted as claiming that Executive Orders were on par with statutes. While that is surely not raising the kind of questions that Snowden is trying to suggest he raised, neither does it seem to me that email is a home run refutation."

Of course, Litt had his mind changed, as in a recent interview with Vice News Litt said "To the extent Snowden was saying he raised his concerns internally within the NSA, no rational person could read this as being anything other than a question about an unclear single page of training."

The NSA formulated a plan early on to get ahead of an interview Snowden had conducted with Vanity Fair  by acting proactively and with certainty that Snowden's facts were't correct. However they would need absolute certainty that Snowden had not communicated his concerns, and approval from the DOJ to release the email - neither of which the NSA had at the moment Vice writes. So the NSA decided to dig further...

"We need great certainty about whether or not there is/was additional correspondence before we stake the reputation of the Agency on a counter narrative," a person from the task force replied in an email addressed to counterintelligence, the legislative affairs office, and the office of general counsel on April 9. "I am going to trigger an action for the appropriate organizations to do an e-mail search [redacted] to affirm that there is no further correspondence that could substantiate Snowden's claim."

Later, while preparing to respond to an NBC news interview fact checking inquiry, the NSA still couldn't confirm that there was 100% assurance that no further correspondence had been had by Snowden and the NSA about his questions.

"Raj, if you are looking for 100% assurance there isn't possibly any correspondence that may have been overlooked I can't give you that," an NSA official, whose name was redacted, wrote in response to De. "If you asked me if I think we've done responsible, reasonable and thoughtful searches I would say 'yes' and would put my name behind sharing the e-mail as 'the only thing we've found that has any relationship to [Snowden's] allegation. Give [sic] Snowden's track record for truth telling we should be prepared that he could produce falsified e-mails and claim he sent them. The burden then falls to us to prove he didn't (you know how that will end)."

Continued infighting between the NSA, DOJ, AND ODNI took place on whether or not to release that Snowden email, and the pressure only grew to make a decision as now Reuters was onto the single email issue.

"Reuters is now pounding the pavement over the email issue," she wrote. "[Brian] Williams clearly said multiple sources confirmed at least 1 email" that Snowden had sent raising his concerns.

However, about three hours before the NSA was to release the "single email", a special agent assigned to the NSA's counterintelligence division sent an email to other counterintelligence officials about additional Snowden emails found within divisions at the NSA Snowden had said he had contacted with his concerns. Roughly thirty emails were discovered from the security office that Snowden either sent or received, and although none were related to Snowden's concerns at the time, the fact that the NSA truly hadn't found any more emails was troubling. Especially since they had decided to go with the "one sole email" theory.

The confidence that the NSA would soon display publicly that it discovered only one email was not reflective of what was taking place behind the scenes. De was still looking for assurances that it was the only communication from Snowden — but no one could confidently say there weren't other emails that had been overlooked.


"I would encourage you to work with your staff to give yourself confidence that requests of your folks to check for records are/were sufficiently robust to underpin your personal level of confidence," someone at the NSA said in an email to De hours before Snowden's email was released. "l am not in any way suggesting that people did not take the requests seriously — they did, but they did so under time pressure."


Rogers was informed via email by someone at the NSA whose name was redacted that the plan, which was based on "dialog with the White House," called for White House press secretary Jay Carney to read a prepared statement and indicate that the one email Snowden wrote, "the same benign email that you and I discussed," would be released later in the day.

As Vice News reports, it turns out that more communications were located, but a person or people at the agency withheld these details, which contained important context about Snowden's correspondence, from the media and even from director Rogers.

About an hour after the Snowden email was finally released, and after the White House said only one piece of correspondence from Snowden had been located, other emails were found, one indicating that Snowden had a verbal communication with compliance that the NSA's counterintelligence investigation wasn't aware of. The NSA continued on the path of saying there was no further correspondence found about any concerns, although they did admit more and more information was starting to come to light that could have been missed. Senator Feinstein also piled on to that plan.

Snowden responded to the release of the email saying that it was "incomplete"

It "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 US internet companies — are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations," Snowden said.


Snowden's statement resulted in a barrage of media inquiries to the Office of Public Affairs and dozens of FOIA requests seeking any additional material showing that he raised concerns. However, the NSA refused to entertain any additional questions, instead providing reporters with a copy of their prepared statement and the sole email.

What was further revealed, is that there were in fact other communications by Snowden. There was an in-person contact with an oversight and compliance training person that was uncovered, and although the compliance person brushed it off as complaints about trick questions on a test, however as Vice News states, it coincides with the timeframe where Snowden would have sent the email, and it was doubtful Snowden was agonizing over failing an open book test.

Then there was the in-person contact with Snowden. As the Oversight and Compliance training woman described in an email written a year later, he "appeared at the side of my desk in the Oversight and Compliance training area... shortly after lunch time." Snowden did not introduce himself, but "seemed upset and proceeded to say that he had tried to take" the basic course introducing Section 702 "and that he had failed. He then commented that he felt we had trick questions throughout the course content that made him fail." Once she gave him "canned answers" to his questions, "he seemed to have calmed down" but said "he still thought the questions tricked the students."


That may well have been what the exchange seemed like to the woman, though it is unlikely Snowden, who six weeks later would walk out of the NSA with thumb drives full of NSA secrets, was agonizing over failing an open-book test.

NSA records show that the OGC received complaints from Snowden about at least two different training programs within days, and that he knew they were speaking to each other about his question. However in its internal assessment of Snowden's communications, the NSA treated them as two separate incidents.

Vice makes the case that the email to the OGC and face-to-face communication could have happened the same day, however it has been difficult to confirm due to the timestamp issues in the FOIA request.

The NSA tried to make the case that Snowden should have known where to voice his concerns, due to sometimes mandatory training. However, the NSA stops short of saying that Snowden ever did complete the training.

Vice also makes the observation that the path Snowden should have followed according to the NSA may have been put in place in response to Snowden, so the available resources to Snowden may have been inadequate. And also, at the end of the day, it's not clear that the policies apply to contractors.

* * *

We'll leave it up to readers to decide what they believe, but there sure is a lot more unanswered questions than answers in this case - here is the full article at Vice News.

However, Edward Snowden, for one, feels better about the unveiling, although he remains adamant that there is much more to the story.

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peddling-fiction's picture

OK so the CIA is fighting NSA outing Snowden stuff and the NSA is fighting the CIA through Anonymous by attacking MSM that is definitely CIA territory.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Alphabet soup of dark truth of Amerikansky imperialistic!

SMG's picture

Thanks Ed!   You were right to do what you did, and are a true American hero.   

laser's picture

Snowden for Pres.

Fish Gone Bad's picture

Think of all the people whose livelihoods depend on them towing the company line, and doing what they are told...  Just like in East Germany before the wall came down.

Bokkenrijder's picture

For all the naive Trump lovers out here, who think that "this time it will be different under President Trump:"


"Snowden was a spy; if Russia respected us, they'd deport him. (Mar 2016)"


p.s. NO, I'm NOT a Hilary fan!

mtl4's picture

Good for Snowden to keep the hammer down on these corrupt fools........everytime he slams them in social media it makes me smile!

optimator's picture

So you see why the Defense Act of 1947 combined all intellegence agencies into one.  So, what will Government do when hundreds of intel agents stumble into each other?  Simple, hire a some new people to find out why too many employees are stumbling into each other.

stant's picture

American hero


Implied Violins's picture

Really? Can you say the same after reading these links?

There are actually some pretty good reasons to think twice about the whole Snowden thing:

John Rappaport:

Sibel Edmonds:


Mark Ames, former writing partner of GlennGreenwald and MattTaibbi:

If those are not enough, just think on this: Snowden gave *all* his material to Greenwald and Poitras. Both of them now work for Pierre Omidyar, an American, who owns PayPal. Greenwald I know suffered the indignity of airport searches of his nether regions when going back to Brazil, and has had US congressmen calling for his head...yet the very man who pays his salary escapes all criticism? The very man who *funded* Ukrainian oligarchs before the war started (check the above links for details, especially the Ames link) is not brought in for questioning?

I don't know about you, but something here stinks to high heaven...and it reminds me of a famous quote: 'We lead ALL revolutions against us.'

budd_dwyers_gun's picture

Thank you! So many forget about the Omidyar link, and fall all over themselves to praise Snowden.


Personally, I'm not 100% convinced as to whether it was a genuine act, or rather an internal op intended to appear as genuine. Something about the whole thing never quite passed the smell test, especially now that we see the increased rhetoric of "Them damn Rooskies are DANGEROUS, we gotta go to war!" I want to lean towards it being a genuine act, but the backstory just seemed too convenient.


Ask yourself: What good is Big Bro's spying apparatus, if the citizens don't know they're being spyed on?

TuPhat's picture

I read the first link.  The author of the article raises a lot of good questions but shows he doesn't know much about the real world.  For instance if you break a bone in special forces training you are automatically out of the program.  I think Snowden is the real thing but all the hype that's been said about him is over the top.  He never claimed to be a super spy and some of his claims were either exagerated by him or the media.  He cannot control everything that is said about him.  I think he is a genuine good guy.

buzzsaw99's picture

snowden, a true american patriot in every sense of the word

reader2010's picture

At this juncture near the end of the Empire, are we supposed to believe there is the rule of law based on the common good?

NoDebt's picture

You're supposed to but your willing suspension of disbelief needs to be a lot stronger than mine is.

herkomilchen's picture

The fact you still have faith in the "rule of law" ultimately representing merely the preferences and opinions of a few elites to be violently imposed on all shows you're no less credulous than the rest.

Bangin7PoundCocks's picture
Bangin7PoundCocks (not verified) Jun 5, 2016 8:52 PM

Trump says he should be drawn, quartered and the parts hung in the furthest reaches of the American Empire. It's good enough for me as a dutiful media consuming Merican'!

NoDebt's picture

Snowden is a true partiot.  As you can see, being a real patriot requires some significant sacrifice.  

BlindMonkey's picture

+1 Snowden still expresses willingness to come  back to the US and will face a trial.  He is absolutely a patriot in every sense.

NoDebt's picture

If he does, I think he knows he won't live to see the trial.  

mtl4's picture

If he's a true patriot he'll stay put in asylum keep doing what he's been doing, don't come back to the US and think it won't end like Braveheart.

WTFUD's picture

Here's hoping he doesn't return too soon for that fair trial before he's found guilty.

booboo's picture

I believe a convincing case could be made by every defense council that government lying is pervasive, systematic and entrenched at all levels of .GOV

Artemis Rand's picture
Artemis Rand (not verified) Jun 5, 2016 8:58 PM

This has nothing to do with Snowden and is off topic here but seeing the flotsom and jetsom at these Copa America soccer games makes me want to vote for Donald Trump even more.

All of these riff-raff mud "people" are the "future" of this country. Makes me want to puke.

It is disgusting to see all of these illegals wave another countries flag here in my country.

Escrava Isaura's picture

Your post tells a lot about you that leave a lot to be desired. Then, spending time watching soccer? How boring.



Artemis Rand's picture
Artemis Rand (not verified) Escrava Isaura Jun 5, 2016 9:28 PM

You wanna join the list ? Then STFU asswipe!

KuriousKat's picture

His mistake in the testing..was to raise questions..thats like a red flag in that environment..that begins a process of marginalization ..containment.kicks in...its obvious Snowden realized that before he excused himself to go  out for a pack of cigarettes.

Luv ya Wolfking!



Artemis Rand's picture
Artemis Rand (not verified) Jun 5, 2016 9:02 PM

The only problem I have with these whistleblowers is that they did not go far enough in releasing information.

Where is all of the UFO information Assange was said to have intel on ?

Then again look at what they did to Gary McKinnon....

Francis Marx's picture

I dont when the white house has ever agreed to anything that incriminated them.

brown.indian.dan's picture

They are eternal do-gooder's and cannot be wrong 

Didn't you get the memo


williambanzai7's picture

As will be revealed shortly, this is Donald Trumps fault...

KuriousKat's picture

I believe in video games it is called getting ganked like shoot on sight.mass the .MSM ..Dems..The Pope..Mexico..Uks honest crook Cameron..absolutely ureal.

I made this in 2013  a reminder to myself honor  Snowden..winston churchills speech..the power of No and resistance to tyranny..

iAmerican's picture

Discover the key displayed on the insignia of the NSA is openly touted as the "papal key" and all understanding is acheived of the JFK-assassinating, 9/11-committing Beast Fifth Column of "the real Anti-Christ" we came here in covenant with God to escape.

peddling-fiction's picture

Yes, the silver key, that applies to this world.

Emergency Ward's picture

President Obama wants him to return to face a kangaroo court with secret evidence and a predetermined verdict before he is sentenced to a thirty year term in a maximum security military prison.

WTFUD's picture

That's cynical!! If found guilty Obama will use an Executive Order to kill him quicker; to give him 3 lethal injections.

I'd like to hear Trump now say that he was hasty in his judgement and now that there is further evidence of Ed's concerns, he will get to the bottom of it in his 1st day as President and Pardon him on his 2nd, topping that up with a place in his Administration.

That would pull in another 5-10% support from the Great Unwashed, like me.

buttmint's picture

...I wonder when and if...including HOW will Snowden and Putin(?) release the simmering 9/11 data dump.


Paul John Smith's picture

Putin plays chess, Obama plays checkers.

I would say, this Fall - probably about the time the soup lines are forming.


(soup lines)

(that's what happens when societies collapse)


booboo's picture

Yes, Pooty Poot a lot of room up his sleeve to stuff all those ace cards he is holding, hell, why do you think america capitulated so fast on Syria, he has Killary/Sid the Yid emails discussing Obama's butt sex sessions with young boys.

Lost in translation's picture

< Snowden = Limited Hangout

< Snowden = Real Deal Patriot whistleblower

TradingIsLifeBrah's picture
TradingIsLifeBrah (not verified) Jun 5, 2016 9:41 PM

"Who is Snowden?" - Brain dead citizens with a memoryspan of 10 days

khakuda's picture

The government lies? You mean the deficit may be more than 10 times the stated $19 trillion??!

holdbuysell's picture

Watching the Underworld series and aligning to the real world helps too.

JailBanksters's picture

The NSA should have done one last illegal thing...

Called the Clintons and make the problem go away.


otschelnik's picture


From strange places supportive comments?   Eric Holder has softened his position on Snowden, now that he's back in civilian life.


budd_dwyers_gun's picture


(formerly) internal documents circa 2003 detailing exactly how hard the No Such Agency seeks out and punishes "cryptographic insecurities."

SmittyinLA's picture

"My understanding is that EOs may be superseded by federal statute, but EOs may not override statute."

Here is the million dollar question, who "wrote" executive order #13355?

Looks like that XO includes granting the NSC undisclosed US treaty authority, authority NOT EVEN THE PRESIDENT HAS.

Who wrote that?

Chimp signed it but who authored it?