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NSA finds one email from Snowden raising question: officials

WASHINGTON--Edward Snowden says he repeatedly raised constitutional concerns about National Security Agency surveillance internally, but an NSA search turned up a single email in which Snowden gently asks for “clarification” on a technical legal question about training materials, agency officials said Thursday.

Snowden, a former NSA systems administrator whose leaks have exposed some of the agency's most sensitive spying operations, called himself a patriot in an interview this week with NBC News' Brian Williams. He said he felt he had no choice but to expose what he considered illegal NSA surveillance by leaking secret details to journalists.

NSA officials have said he gained access to some 1.7 million classified documents, though it's not clear how many he removed from the Hawaii facility where he worked as a contractor.

Asked by Williams whether he first raised his qualms with his bosses, he said, “I reported that there were real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities.”

On Thursday, NSA released the email they said Snowden appeared to be referring to, which the agency says is the only communication from Snowden it could find raising any concerns. It was dated April 8, 2013, three months after Snowden first reached out to journalists anonymously. Former NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander said the agency could find no one to whom Snowden voiced concerns verbally either.

In the email to NSA's general counsel's office, Snowden questions an NSA document showing the hierarchy of governing authorities, which appeared to put executive orders on par with federal statutes.

“I'm not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply executive orders have the same precedence as law,” Snowden said in the email. “Could you please clarify?”

An unidentified NSA lawyer began his reply, “Hello, Ed,” and told Snowden he was correct: Executive orders cannot override federal law.

In an email to The Washington Post, Snowden called the official release of the email “incomplete,” the newspaper reported late Thursday.

Snowden said it did not include his correspondence with NSA compliance officials and concerns he had raised about “indefensible collection activities.” He repeated claims that he had shown colleagues “direct evidence” of programs that they agreed were unconstitutional, the newspaper said.

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