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Image credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

Snowden did more to raise NSA concerns than officials claimed

While there isn't a flood of data, it's clear there was more than just one email.

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Reuters/Andrew Kelly

For the longest time, US officials denied that Edward Snowden made serious attempts to raise concerns about NSA surveillance activities before he took off with classified data. There was only evidence of one not-so-worrisome email, they said. However, it's now clear that this isn't the whole story. Documents obtained by Vice News (and published by the NSA) show that Snowden likely did more to raise concerns with the NSA than officials claimed. While there's no smoking gun, two out of three previously unmentioned Snowden interactions with the Oversight and Compliance Office involved disputes over an open-book test on foreign intelligence gathering. The findings suggest that Snowden might have disagreed with the test's interpretation of the law, which would be in sync with the previously released email.

Internal conversations also show that there was a rush to put out the one-email story, even when it wasn't certain that this was the extent of Snowden's contact. Officials discovered those extra discussions mere hours after its official response went out, and didn't bring them up until now. Moreover, the NSA's assertion that Snowden had clear paths to report concerns wasn't entirely true. It's not certain that he took an oversight training course before leaving, or that contractors like him could safely blow the whistle without facing reprisals. One of the suggested options for reporting concerns, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Office, was created in response to Snowden's leaks. He couldn't talk to a division that didn't exist, could he?

The uncovered details still fall well short of Snowden claims. He says he reported "problematic" NSA programs to "more than 10 distinct officials" who did nothing, and there's no hard evidence that this occurred. However, Snowden maintains that the agency is being "intentionally deceptive" with public releases -- it's allegedly withholding email from before 2013, any online chat transcripts (such as for Jabber, IRC and Lync) and testimony from his coworkers at the time. There's no way to verify that he's right without official documents. If there is a grain of truth to what he's saying, though, it'd hint that the NSA is once more trying to discredit Snowden by releasing only a fragment of its data.

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