Edward Snowden sat down with NBC’s Brian Williams last night for a tell-all interview, and among the myriad revelations was one that came not from Snowden, but from the anchor during a buffer segment.
The Snowden NBC News interview was frequently interrupted by brief commercial breaks, which were themselves bookended by Williams’ introductions to interview segments, or followups to previous conversations.
During one of these Williams-only portions, a bit of the interview during which Snowden was questioned about “official channels” and more standard whistleblowing procedures was addressed. Snowden answered many of the big questions about his game-changing leak to Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian, but Williams backed up one of the biggest and most important claims made by Snowden — that his flight to Hong Kong was not the security expert’s first attempt to fix the problem, not by a long shot.
Critics of Snowden frequently undermine his credibility by suggesting that he could have raised concerns more discreetly, that he should not have fled the country in order to ring the alarm. He’s been lambasted for reaching out to a UK publication and holing up abroad to disseminate the information… concerns seemingly fully resolved not by Snowden himself, but by Brian Williams.
Williams asked what Snowden attempted to report initially, and what happened as a result. Snowden answers:
“So… I reported that there were — real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities. And I went even further in this — to say that they could be unconstitutional — that they were sort of abrogating our model of government in a way that empowered presidents to override our statutory laws. And this was made very clear.”
As we all know by now, Snowden’s concerns were not addressed, and he recalls:
“And the response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was, ‘You should stop asking questions.’ And these are — these are recent records. I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these — one of these communications with a legal office. And in fact I’m so sure that these communications exist that I’ve called on Congress to write a letter to the NSA to — to verify that they do. Write to the office of general counsel and say, ‘Did Mr. Snowden — ever communicate any concerns about the NSA’s interpretation of its legal authorities?'”
NBC News reports that both the NSA and the CIA declined to comment on Snowden’s assertion, which is to be expected.
But, as Snowden’s collaborator Glenn Greenwald tweeted in the wake of the interview, that’s not the end of the fact-check:
Biggest news from NBC/Snowden interview: NBC confirmed Snowden filed written concerns with NSA – something USG has vehemently denied.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 29, 2014
As Edward Snowden indicated, he did attempt to seek redress within the confines and rules of his position — and nothing was done. NBC News indeed verified that Snowden raised concerns through official channels and, it would appear, was ignored or (as Snowden indicates) possibly even threatened.
NBC has filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to further verify the extent of Edward Snowden’s attempts to blow the whistle by the book, and has pledged to follow up with the results of their FOIA request.