Edward Snowden, the former security contractor who leaked details of the National Security Agency's Prism program, said in an online chat Monday that Silicon Valley tech companies' denials of providing access to government officials "were misleading."

"Their denials went through several revisions as it become more and more clear they were misleading and included identical, specific language across companies," Snowden said in a chat facilitated by The Guardian, the British news source to which he originally provided information on the program.

The question that prompted that answer mentioned only Google (GOOG) and Facebook, but Snowden expanded that group later in his reply.

"They are legally compelled to comply and maintain their silence in regard to specifics of the program, but that does not comply them from ethical obligation. If for example Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple (AAPL) refused to provide this cooperation with the Intelligence Community, what do you think the government would do? Shut them down?" he asked.

Snowden originally detailed the program's open access to Verizon phone records earlier this month, and The Guardian and Washington Post reported the next day that a government document showed that the NSA also had "direct access" to the servers of prominent technology companies Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo (YHOO), and Microsoft, as well as others.

The companies launched denials of the accusations almost immediately, which were similar, as Snowden noted. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, "We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers," while and Google CEO Larry Page stated, "We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government -- or any other government -- direct access to our servers."

Those and other official denials mostly focused on the phrase "direct access," with companies saying that the NSA could petition for specific information, but did not have blanket access to users' information, as it apparently does with Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier. Snowden also responded to that detail, when asked to "Define in as much detail as you can what "direct access" means."

"More detail on how direct NSA's accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want," Snowden responded.

In response to the accusations, Google has led a charge asking the federal government for permission to release further details on NSA requests for information, with Facebook and Microsoft voicing approval of the plan. Facebook and Apple have since released general details on requests for such information, which Google does on an annual basis.

Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.