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NSA releases Snowden email mentioned in NBC interview

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The National Security Agency released an email exchange between Edward Snowden and its Office of General Counsel on Thursday after questions arose from a NBC interview that aired Wednesday night.

During the interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Snowden said he contacted the NSA's Office of General Counsel to express his concerns. Williams said NBC filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA seeking that email. On Thursday, Examiner did the same. This afternoon, the NSA released the following statement:

NSA has now explained that they have found one email inquiry by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed. The e-mail did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed. There was not additional follow-up noted. The e-mail will be released later today.

There are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations. We have searched for additional indications of outreach from him in those areas and to date have not discovered any engagements related to his claims.

The April 5, 2013 email, available here, begins, "Hello, I have a question regarding the mandatory USSID 18 training." It continues:

The training states the following:

(U) The Hierarchy of Governing Authorities and Documents is displayed from the
highest authority to the lowest authority as follows:

U.S. Constitution
Federal Statutes/Presidential Executive Orders (EO)
Department of Defense (DoD) and Office of the Director of National
Intelligence (ODNI) Regulations
NSA/CSS Directives and Policies
SID Management Directives and Policies
Office Policies

I'm not entirely certain, but this does not seem correct, as it seems to imply
Executive Orders have the same precedence as law. My understanding is that
EOs may be superseded by federal statute, but EOs may not override statute.
Am I incorrect in this? Between EOs and laws, which have precedence?

Similarly, between DOD and ODNI regulations, which has greater precedence?

Could you please clarify?

Thank you very much,


The office replied:

Hello Ed,

Executive Orders (E.O.s) have the "force and effect of law." That said, you are correct that E.O.s cannot override a statute.

In general, DOD and ODNI regulations are afforded similar precedence though subject matter or date could result in one having precedence over another.

Please give me a call if you would like to discuss further.