A few days have passed since Edward Snowden’s blockbuster interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, and more Americans currently opposehis actions than support them.
Nevertheless, there is a simple way that the former NSA system administrator can silence some critics: Release the emails that he says prove that he tried to officially blow the whistle before absconding to Hong Kong with hundreds of thousands of top secret NSA documents.
“I actually did go through channels, and that is documented,” Snowden told Williams. “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 interpretation of its legal authorities.”
The NSA has produced a single email from April 2013 — almost a year after Snowden allegedly began stealing documents and months after he began giving some of them to journalists — that asked the NSA General Counsel about about a training session and whether presidential executive orders supersede federal laws.
Snowden responded by saying that the NSA’s release is incomplete, that there is a similar email to the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance that “[contradicts] what was just published.” He added that the NSA should ask his former colleagues about whether he raised concerns.
Consequently, Snowden has an opportunity to embarrass the NSA by producing more emails, specifically emails showing that he made official complains before he began stealing documents or offering his story to journalists.
Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group explained the situation succinctly:
If Snowden previously raised serious objections to the NSA on its practices, you’d think he could release those emails too…
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 29, 2014
Ben Wizner, one of Snowden’s legal advisors, contends that the dispute over purported emails is “irrelevant.” Glenn Greenwald, who recieved an estimated 200,000 documents from Snowden, first said that the emails were the “biggest news” of the interview before agreeing with Wizner.
“Of course his legal advisor says the emails are irrelevant; that’s why you have a legal advisor,” Bremmer told Business Insider in an email. “But not substantiating that claim undermines Snowden’s credibility.”
Consequently, critics of Snowden are calling for the former CIA technician to simply release the emails, or explain exactly why he can’t.
In the end, Snowden’s credibility relies on more than the emails. There are also questions about what and how much he took but didn’t give to journalists as well as when he gave up access to that information.
The former CIA technician told NBC that he “destroyed” the material he was holding before going to Russia, but he told the New York Times in December that he gave up all of the classified information that he obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong.
Given his legal situation, Snowden cannot discuss all of the uncertainties and apparent contradictions in his story. But clearing up some of them — at least the whistleblowing emails — may go a long way to re-convincing the American people that all of his actions were justified.
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