US tries to debunk Snowden email claims

Summary:The Obama White House has struck out at claims made by Edward Snowden that he attempted to internally raise concerns about the NSA's activities, before fleeing to Hong Kong.

The US government has released an email by Edward Snowden in a bid to debunk his claim that he raised concerns about mass spying programs before fleeing and engineering huge media leaks.

Snowden, now exiled in Russia, said in an interview aired by NBC on Wednesday that he had gone through official channels to question the legality of National Security Agency surveillance.

The former intelligence contractor mentioned a specific email he had written to the NSA general counsel's office detailing his concerns.

In response, the agency released what President Barack Obama's administration said was the only such communication found in the archives from Snowden on the issue, and said it did not prove his claims.

But Snowden subsequently told The Washington Post the NSA's release was "incomplete", pointing to additional correspondence with the agency's Signals Intelligence Directorate.

Snowden said he had also raised concerns about the NSA's use of data from major US internet companies.

In the April 2013 email, Snowden asked NSA lawyers to clarify a question about the relative authority of executive orders released by the president and legal statutes.

The exchange does not in itself appear to register a complaint or concern about the mass phone data surveillance programs he later exposed in leaks to media organisations.

"The email did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"There was not additional follow-up noted."

In December, the NSA claimed it had never received any such communication from Snowden.

"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," NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said at the time.

Responding to the latest email release, Snowden expressed confidence that the "truth" would soon become clear.

The White House maintains there were plenty of avenues Snowden could have taken to raise concerns about the legality and scope of NSA programs instead of leaking huge amounts of classified material to journalists.

But Snowden maintained in the NBC interview that he did go through official channels.

"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," he said.

"The response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, 'You should stop asking questions'."

Snowden also told NBC he was open to the possibility of clemency or amnesty and would like to return home one day.

But the former intelligence contractor maintained he had carried out a patriotic act by exposing huge surveillance dragnets he said infringed the US Constitution.

The Obama administration, however, says Snowden is welcome to return home but only to face trial for exposing sensitive information it says aided US enemies.

Topics: Security, Privacy

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