In which the NSA leaker does damage control from the neo-USSR.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden instantly regretted asking Russian President Vladimir Putin a softball question on live television about the Kremlin’s mass surveillance effort, two sources close to the leaker tell The Daily Beast.
“It certainly didn’t go as he would’ve hoped,” one of these sources said. “I don’t think there’s any shame in saying that he made an error in judgment.”
“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,” added Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who serves as one of Snowden’s closest advisers.
According to Wizner and others, Snowden hadn’t realized how much last week’s Q&A—with Putin blithely assuring Snowden that Moscow had no such eavesdropping programs—would appear to be a Kremlin propaganda victory to Western eyes. And so the leaker quickly decided to write an op-ed for the Guardian to explain his actions and to all but label Putin a liar for his televised response.
It isn’t just Snowden’s public softball game with Putin that has raised suspicions of him. Snowden is suspect because, first, he chose to run to Hong Kong and then to Russia after he leaked the NSA’s surveillance programs to a leftwing journalist.
Following that, he had nothing to say about Russia’s mass surveillance of journalists and presumably athletes and visitors during the Socchi Olympics.
Following that, Snowden appeared at SXSW via video conference from Russia. During that talk, he again had nothing to say about Russia’s surveillance programs, its suspected assassinations of journalists, its recent clampdown on the last of Russia’s free press, nothing.
Everything about that SXSW talk carried bad optics. Snowden spoke from Russia shortly after Putin had invaded and taken Crimea. Snowden had nothing to say about that. Snowden assailed US domestic spying policies — fair enough — but from Russia at a time when his very appearance made the US appear impotent against Russia, and when Russian forces are menacing Ukraine and the stability of Europe.
Neither of Snowden’s two 2014 appearances can possibly have happened without Kremlin approval.
Ever since Snowden landed in Moscow under the watchful eye of the Russian surveillance state, he’s been represented in Russia by a man deeply connected to the Kremlin in addition to his American counsel. It’s one of many reasons why critics have accused the leaker of being a Putin patsy. That criticism has been accompanied by a whisper campaign from both the American and Russian governments alleging that Snowden was under the thumb of Putin’s intelligence services, a claim Snowden and his camp have strongly denied.
He can deny it all he wants. The fact is, the Russian government knows where he is and has total control over whether it extends his asylum in August or not. Russia could have shut down Snowden’s SXSW talk, but didn’t, because it presented the images that Putin wanted presented. Russia could have shut off Snowden’s direct question to Putin, but again, it didn’t, because it provided invaluable domestic and international propaganda for the Putin regime.