NEW YORK -– The American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that it has been in contact with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden for several weeks, and at his request the organization is “playing a coordinating role to ensure that he receives appropriate legal advice and representation.”
“As we have said before, we believe that the information Mr. Snowden has disclosed about the nature, scope, and putative legal authorization of the NSA’s surveillance operations has generated a remarkable and long-overdue public debate about the legality and propriety of the government’s surveillance activities," an ACLU statement read. "The ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecutable under the nation’s espionage laws.”
The ACLU’s involvement was first reported Thursday in a Wall Street Journal article about Snowden speaking to his father, Lon Snowden, for the first time since late May, when he fled the United States for Hong Kong and later Russia.
The Journal also reported that Mattie Fein, the wife and spokeswoman of the elder Snowden’s attorney, Bruce Fein, said the father's legal team “doesn't trust the intentions” of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has broken major NSA surveillance stories based on documents leaked by Snowden, or WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization that has provided the 30-year-old former contractor with advice.
In a Thursday email to The Huffington Post, Edward Snowden urged the media not to rely on his father or the Feins for information about his current situation, saying they do not “represent me in any way.”
“None of them have been or are involved in my current situation, and this will not change in the future," Snowden said. "I ask journalists to understand that they do not possess any special knowledge regarding my situation or future plans, and not to exploit the tragic vacuum of my father's emotional compromise for the sake of tabloid news."
Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, confirmed Thursday night that the email received by The Huffington Post was from Snowden.
Snowden, who faces espionage charges for leaking classified materials to the media, remains in Russia under temporary asylum. He is represented by attorney Anatoly Kucherena there.
The dispute over recent news coverage, and who speaks for Snowden, comes amid new surveillance revelations borne of Snowden's disclosures.
On Thursday night, The Washington Post published a blockbuster story detailing how the NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.”
Journalist Barton Gellman, the author of the latest Post scoop and previous NSA-related ones, noted the documents he relied upon were provided by Snowden.