Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

June 4, 2014

How to define a whistleblower

WASHINGTON — Edward Snowden may have created a paper trail that he could later use to say he brought his questioning of National Security Agency activities to higher authorities.

That at least appears to be the case from the April 5, 2013, short e-mail the former contractor sent to the NSA general counsel’s office inquiring about the hierarchy of legal authorities — executive orders vs. statutes — following a mandatory NSA training session.

Government officials released the e-mail Thursday.

Snowden’s missive offered no criticism. The general counsel’s answer, three days later, said that executive orders have the force of law but cannot override a statute. Snowden was invited to call if he wanted to discuss the issue further.

He didn’t, apparently. Weeks before April 18, 2013, he’d sent an e-mail to filmmaker Laura Poitras saying he would be providing documents to her within four to six weeks, according to Glenn Greenwald’s book, “No Place to Hide.”

Snowden claimed during last week’s NBC interview with Brian Williams that he’d tried to be a whistleblower and had complained through official channels before turning to journalists.

He said there were e-mails to the general counsel and oversight and compliance folks and added, “I reported that there were real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities. And the response more or less — in bureaucratic language — was you should stop asking questions.”

In response, the government released the April 5 e-mail.

By the time Snowden sent that e-mail he was clandestinely collecting highly classified documents and had been working for months setting up what was to become his journalistic network.

Published reports say that Snowden, while working on an NSA contract with the Dell Corp. in Hawaii in 2012, spent “parts of 2012 downloading the documents he thought the world should see,” as Greenwald notes in his book.

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