Three years after his disclosures about mass surveillance first made headlines, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has recently been back in the news as revelations related to the documents he leaked continue to emerge.
Vice published a story today based on documents recently released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the publication against the NSA, which show that Snowden did in fact make attempts to report his concerns through official channels before leaking classified information to the media.
Snowden did not comment at any length or respond to questions for the Vice article, issuing only a short statement that “the NSA is still playing games with selective releases” through his attorney. While the documents released paint a much different picture than previously portrayed by the NSA of its confidence that Snowden didn’t report his concerns to the right people, they do not go as far as verifying Snowden’s claim that he reported questionable programs “to more than 10 distinct officials.”
The documents, which largely consist of emails, do confirm some other previous claims, though, including that Snowden did in fact work not only with the NSA but also with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Perhaps the greatest revelation of the documents, however, is the perspective they give on the internal atmosphere within the NSA and intelligence community. Officials come across as highly image-conscious, yet cynical and even hostile towards media and public interest in their operations. The Vice story is worth reading in full.
The Vice revelations capped off a bad week for the NSA’s defenders, which began with former Attorney General Eric Holder appearing to change his tune regarding the Snowden leaks. While he says he still thinks Snowden should return to U.S. and go to trial for the charges against him, Holder acknowledged “the usefulness of having had that national debate” about surveillance.
“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.
While some changes have been made, though, more reminders also emerged this week of others that probably still require making, as additional fallout from the Snowden revelations continued. The Japan Times reports that Snowden today has warned “that all people in Japan are subjected to mass surveillance initiated by the U.S. government.”
And in the U.K., controversy has erupted over revelations that not only Britain’s own Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), but also the NSA, has had access to all parliamentary emails for at least three years.
In a tweet sent following Holder’s comments, Snowden joked about the changing narrative surrounding his decision to leak classified documents:
2013: It’s treason!
2014: Maybe not, but it was reckless
2015: Still, technically it was unlawful
2016: It was a public service but
It is indeed undeniable that the official rhetoric surrounding the Snowden revelations has shifted considerably in the three years since he first blew the whistle on the NSA’s controversial activities. It will be interesting to see where the surveillance debate goes in the next year, as America votes for a new president and a new administration takes office.