By Evan Popp:Credit:Think Progress
Three years after news first broke of the government’s mass telephone data collection program based on NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, there’s proof that going public might have been his only option.
According to a Vice News investigation published Saturday, NSA officials ignored Snowden’s multiple attempts to report his concerns about the NSA’s surveillance programs.
Snowden has consistently claimed that he raised many complaints before leaking the existence of the metadata program to reporters. However, the NSA has maintained that Snowden only sent a single email asking about whether the NSA follows presidential executive orders over congressional statutes — not the government’s metadata program.
The documents Vice obtained through a public records request show that Snowden spoke in person with an oversight and compliance officer, one of the people tasked with responding to his email. The agency maintains that the conversation was not related to Snowden’s email.
The documents also show NSA officials altered emails that discussed Snowden.
“Due to a technical flaw in an operating system, some timestamps in email headers were unavoidably altered,” Justice Department attorney Brigham Bowen wrote in a letter to Vice News. “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.”
Also revealed in the documents is that the NSA wasn’t aware of all of Snowden’s attempts to contact high-ranking officials. “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 an internal memo obtained by Vice. However, the NSA carried out “responsible, reasonable and thoughtful searches” for correspondences between Snowden and the agency.
Vice concluded that while the NSA now has a document with guidance for those raising legal issues or questions about programs such as the bulk data collection of phone records, it was “put in place in response to Snowden, an indication that the resources available to Snowden may have been inadequate.”
Snowden has been the subject of controversy since he revealed the existence of the NSA metadata program to reporters in 2013 and has been largely criticized by the Obama administration, which has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other administration. In an effort to stop the next Snowden, the Department of Defense has gone so far as to create a database to predict which government employees are most likely to become whistleblowers.
The nature of Snowden’s actions came up again last month after former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Snowden performed “a public service” by revealing government spying, but should still be punished for leaking documents.
Evan Popp is an intern at ThinkProgress.