Former NSA contractor and leaker Edward Snowden, who asked a staged question of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a TV show yesterday, defended his actions in a Guardian op-ed.
Putin was addressing the nation in a four-hour television appearance in which he took a handful of questions, including from a 6-year-old boy who asked Putin if he thought President Obama would save him from drowning.
When told by host Anna Pavlova that he had a “surprise” video call from Snowden, who has been granted indefinite asylum in Russia to escape prosecution in the U.S., Putin said, “Do I really?”
“Does Russia intercept, store, or analyse in any way the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies – rather than subjects – under surveillance?” Snowden asked.
Putin addressed Snowden as “a former intelligence officer, and I have worked for an intelligence agency, too.”
“Russia has laws that strictly regulate the use of special equipment by security services, including for the tapping of private conversations and for the surveillance of online communications. They need to receive a court warrant to be able to use this equipment in each particular case. So there is no, and cannot be any, indiscriminate mass surveillance under Russian law,” he said. “Since criminals, including terrorists, use these modern communication systems for their criminal activity, security services should be able to respond accordingly and use modern equipment to combat crime, including terrorism.”
“Yes, we do this, but not on such a large scale and not arbitrarily,” Putin continued. “Hopefully – I hope very much – we will never act in this manner. Besides, we do not have such technical capabilities and funds as the United States. But the main thing is that, happily, our security services are strictly controlled by the state and society and their operation is strictly regulated by law.”
Snowden wrote that his questions were ”intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion.”
“Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability,” Snowden claimed, adding that Putin “denied” and “dodged” in his answer in a way “remarkably similar” to Obama.
“I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it,” the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor continued.
“…So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.”