Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned-whistle-blower Edward Snowden had greater interactions with the agency before leaking documents to journalists about its surveillance programs, a Vice investigation has found. The findings challenge the U.S. government's narrative that Snowden had not tried to warn officials before his leak.
Snowden has always claimed he tried to raise his concerns with the NSA before leaking classified documents to journalists. The documents, published in May 2013, revealed widespread surveillance of American citizens by the NSA.
Snowden fled first to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where the government granted him asylum and where he currently resides.
“I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than 10 distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them,” Snowden said when he testified before the European Parliament in 2014.
Hundred of documents obtained by Vice through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show Snowden had greater contact with NSA officials than initially revealed, including a face-to-face meeting with an official.
The documents show that, after the leak, NSA officials denied having a face-to-face interaction with Snowden.
“Our findings are that we have found no evidence in the interviews, email, or chats reviewed that support his claims,” an NSA official wrote in an email.
While it remains unclear if Snowden explicitly raised concerns about the NSA’s surveillance programs, the documents show Snowden asking specific legal questions to a greater degree than the government previously acknowledged.
Snowden chose not to answer all of Vice’s questions for the story, saying he remained skeptical of the government releasing documents related to his actions.
“[Snowden] believes the NSA is still playing games with selective releases, and [he] therefore chooses not to participate in this effort,” Snowden attorney Ben Wizner told Vice. “He doesn’t trust that the intelligence community will operate in good faith.”
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that Snowden had triggered a debate in the U.S. over government surveillance but should still be held accountable for leaking classified information.
“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder said.
Snowden took to Twitter to respond to Holder, describing how views toward his actions have changed since 2013.