NSA leaker Edward Snowden did not intend to hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a propaganda victory when he put a softball question to the Kremlin leader on a TV call-in show, The Daily Beast
Snowden, who fled to Russia to avoid prosecution in the United States for exposing government collection of phone records, asked Putin if his regime has a similar program.
"Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?" he said.
Putin replied that Russia wouldn’t dream of intruding on its citizens’ privacy and in any case, it cannot afford mass surveillance technology.
"Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy, I used to be working for an intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language," he said smoothly.
"We don't have as much money as they have in the States, and we don't have these technical devices that they have in the States," he said. "Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law."
Both the question and the response instantly were decried as ludicrous by experts.
Just a day earlier, Russia's main social network, VKontakte, posted what appeared to be security agency documents requesting personal information from the accounts of 39 groups linked to the Ukrainian protest movement.
A Moscow-based security analyst, Andrei Soldatov, tweeted, "First, there is no parliamentary oversight of secret services. Second, the FSB [Russia's security agency] is not required to show a warrant to anyone."
A member of Snowden’s inner circle, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner, told the Daily Beast, however, that the leaker actually intended his question to embarrass Putin: "He basically viewed the question as his first foray into criticizing Russia. He was genuinely surprised that in reasonable corridors it was seen as the opposite."
Snowden was so upset at coming over as a Putin patsy that he has written an op-ed for The Guardian
in which he contends that he trapped Putin into coming over as evasive.
He "denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter," he says.
"Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even [Barack] Obama himself conceded will make our nation stronger," he said. "I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then."
However, Stewart Baker, the NSA’s former general counsel, blogged at The Washington Post,
"It sure looks as though Snowden is playing the Kremlin’s game here, serving up a pre-arranged softball on demand."
And Edward Lucas, a senior editor at the Economist who has attacked the leaker in an ebook called The Snowden Operation, told The Wall Street Journal,
"This raises all sorts of questions about the real conditions of his stay in Russia and his relationship with the Kremlin."
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