Snowden Asks Putin Live On TV If Russia Carries Out Mass Surveillance; But Why?

from the what-on-earth-was-he-thinking? dept

Edward Snowden has generally been staying out of the limelight so that the NSA story is about the surveillance not the whistleblower. He’s given occasional interviews and delivered a few short speeches via videolink, but usually of a fairly low-key nature. That makes his unexpected appearance today on a marathon televised question-and-answer session with Vladimir Putin — again by videolink — extremely odd. Here’s his question, as reported by The Guardian:

Snowden asked: “Does Russia intercept or store or analyse the communication of millions of individuals?” He went on to ask whether increasing the effectiveness of internal security systems could ever justify such actions.

To which Putin replied:

“Mr Snowden you are a former agent, a spy, I used to work for a intelligence service, we are going to talk the same language.”

He said Russia did not have a comparable programme, stating: “Our agents are controlled by law. You have to get court permission to put an individual under surveillance. We don’t have mass permission, and our law makes it impossible for that kind of mass permission to exist.”

He said he was aware that “criminals and terrorists” relied on this kind of [technology], and that their actions demanded a response from the security services. “We have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of a terrorist nature, we do have some efforts like that. We don’t have a mass control. I hope we [w]on’t do that,” he said.

It’s really hard to know why Snowden asked this question. Perhaps he wanted to emphasize the disproportionate nature of NSA spying by contrasting it with Russia’s approach; perhaps he thought his appearance would jolt a jaded public and focus renewed attention on the key issues. But surely he must have guessed that Putin would answer as he did — whether or not it is true — that Russia uses surveillance strictly according to the law, that there is no massive, disproportionate spying of the kind practiced by the NSA, etc. etc. He must have known that Putin would easily turn Snowden’s question into a wonderful opportunity to score points against the US.

Inevitably, then, this appearance will be leapt on by those who have maintained that Snowden is some kind of Russian spy, and that he has been working for Putin all along. As Techdirt has noted, that story doesn’t stand up, but this unexpected intervention by Snowden certainly doesn’t do anything to dispel it. For someone who until now has judged when and how to make public statements so skilfully and effectively, this seems like an incredible misstep. It really makes you wonder what might lie behind it.

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Comments on “Snowden Asks Putin Live On TV If Russia Carries Out Mass Surveillance; But Why?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Asylum

I was going to make this comment, but pretty much this.

Putin: “Hey, you know I scratched your back and my back is feeling a bit itchy right now…”

Snowden did his job and I haven’t cared much for him afterwards beyond hoping he gets a pardon and welcomed back with no strings attached. As it is, he’s going to be stuck in exile and going to be used by whomever has effective control of him.

Which is still way better than rotting in jail over here.

Trevor says:


I wonder if he was teeing Putin up to lie, so a next set of disclosures from the Guardian and Greenwald can contradict him, and put Russia in the same predicament the NSA is in?

I mean, it’s almost common knowledge that Russia spies on dissidents within the country (, so maybe he was trying to put Putin in a position of incriminating himself?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hmm

Why? I can think of very good reasons why Snowden would ask this without knowing the answer.

Their are four possible truth/answer combinations. None of them have bad results:

1) Spying is going on & Putin denies it. This seems to be what the commenters here believe is happening. If Putin feels the need to be hypocritical here, then it establishes that Russian leaders are aware of an expectation of privacy among its citizens. Snowden may be exposing a vulnerability. If Putin is ashamed to admit to spying, then those who know better can take advantage of it by exposing his lies.

2) Spying is going on and Putin admits it. Having the leader of the nation that was the stereotypical big-brother during the cold war admit to the same practices as the US places greater shame on America and helps foster change here.

3) Bulk spying is not going on and Putin claims it is. I’m not sure the positive situation here. Perhaps his people would throw a fit and he’d backpedal.

4) No bulk spying and he tells the truth. US is further shamed for being more of a tyrant than Russia.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Well

I don’t understand why this question was bad for Snowden to ask. People seem to be accusing him of giving Putin a propaganda opportunity. I don’t think so. Was Wyden giving Clapper a propaganda opportunity when he asked a similar question?

The crux of the matter is that there is a whole lot of value in getting a leader, on the record, answering a question, even if their answer may be false.

Anonymous Coward says:

It really makes you wonder what might lie behind it.

It HAS been awhile since we’ve had one of those leaks released, hasn’t it? Perhaps the next one will be less local, more global?
We already know the UK essentially has a local branch of the NSA. Perhaps several other countries, including Russia, are also playing along?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Of COURSE they’re playing along. Every country on this planet that has the financial resources is playing along: why wouldn’t they?

The Russians are doing it, the Germans are doing it, the Chinese are doing it, the Japanese are doing it, the British are doing it, the Indians are doing it. And: they all know that each other are doing it, (a) because it’s too large an op to hide and (b) because it’s their business to know such things.

Thus the question isn’t “are they doing it?” but “are there any Snowden-equivalents who have the goods to prove it?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Don't judge just yet

Doubt it, indeed Russia does very intrusive surveillance of its (well, Putin’s political party) enemies, have you seen that interview where mikes stopped working during an interview with this guy who was going to win in the elections for mayor of Moscow but then thrown to prison for a short period making him ineligible to any elections?

It’s the kind of stuff the US was doing openly since the 40’s into the 70’s, after that the US decided to pretend being the most democratic and open society in the world, while making that mass surveillance project in the background. Different kinds of oppression is still oppression but I’m sure people living in rural russia (there’s a shitload of areas called rural russia) even encounter more authority (of any form, in the open or not) than the local cop.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Don't judge just yet

acting out of character is cause for concern. Could mean he’s being coerced, might have a wacky plan, or cracking under the pressure.

Personally my bets are on the first one. Not exactly like he made it to a land of the free… and our current land of the free is not looking all that great anymore now that he pulled back the curtains.

So yea, people defend him. He did the American thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Don't judge just yet

Got to love the Snowden bots getting all up in arms about not judging their precious Snowden yet they have no problem doing the same to the NSA.

Judge Snowden for what? Asking a national leader if they are bulk spying on their citizens? Every person in the world should be asking the same questions. Yes, some leaders may lie (cough Clapper cough) or dissemble (cough Obama, Rogers, Feinstein cough). But that doesn’t mean that we (and Snowden) shouldn’t keep asking.

Greg (profile) says:

Probably asked to ask the question

The guy is in a predicament as of now he is in Russia if he wants to stay out of the clutches of the NSA then he has to be nice to his current benefactors so its likely this is purely political capital and the questions would have been prepared.
It also feels like were getting nowhere with this even though many agencies are clearly breaking the law in most peoples eyes and that mass surveillance smells like the Stazi in disguise there ramping spying on everyone to new levels and trying to get everything they want authorized under the terror banner.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: @17

You are too kind for this world. All those militaries in the world and nukes that can destroy humanity in 15 seconds exist only because they might have to kill people who killed some of theirs…well…most armies…The Empire Strikes First, never forget.

That little show in Iraq about “first strike Bush doctrine” is actually what the NATO doctrine is now since 9/11, “Ability to knock out any nuclear power if one of their allies is attacked by one of those, a “successful First Strike”. Russia switched to that too by the way, the brillant insanity that was MAD is no more, Russia has decided even before 9/11 (Putin was President since almost 2 years then) as he saw the country which was once a Superpower now totally weak, and being the largest country the world is gonna make people want to pick at you…he brought back some military strength and decency of life (except for the last couple years where laws, which i think were adopted by a truly honest parliament or whatever it is they have there, is it Duma? Anyway, the 2 superpowers are now at proxy war since before 9/11, since Yugoslavia, but then they had a drunken buffoon leaving his people die of hunger…Putin removed a lot of that, their economy was doing really fine during the economic crisis even.

But to make it quick, NATO vs SCO (research it) is what is going on and they both have plans of making a nuclear war winnable by First Strike.

Insane, mad men rule the world, i’m not sure if you’re just naive or truly mean those words…

29 years in human history – the total duration of life without war

Sunhawk (profile) says:

To be honest, on a certain level I don’t give a damn if all of Rogers’ claims are true about Snowden. I doubt they are, but it matters little to me.

What matters are the documents being released. I care far more about what the government that has quite a bit of power (theoretical and actual) over me then a single individual that I’ve never even met.

So Rogers, posters gleefully pouncing on this and others of the sort… are you declaring the documents to be mass forgery? Because any other claim to try and sweep the issue away I don’t give a damn about in comparison. Snowden could be a kiddie fiddler and it wouldn’t change the cat being out of the bag.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know...

At first glance this looks like Snowden is pandering to putin so putin can put himself/russia on a pedestal to stick it to the bad ol USA.

However, perhaps snowden knows better and is setting putin up for some pretty big embarassment. Think about it, if russia/putin comes out officially and sais that it’s not going on, and later cables are released that contradict these statements then they just got caught in a lie.

I’ll reserve my judgement on this one and wait for it to play out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You know...

At first glance this looks like Snowden is pandering to putin so putin can put himself/russia on a pedestal to stick it to the bad ol USA.

Is it a bad thing if the USA endures some shame over this issue? I think it’s still noble and patriotic of Mr. Snowden to do this even if the only end-game here is more pressure on the US to stop its bulk spying.

qw says:

Re: You know...

However, perhaps snowden knows better

He worked for the NSA. He knows without any shadow of a doubt the answer to the question he asked Putin.

Which makes me wonder, a lot, why he asked it.

Putin is not known for putting himself in compromising positions. This had to have been approved in advance.

Which means Putin wanted to give that answer to the public, any way you swing the cat.

billy says:

The reason for this question is obvious.

This is a question all heads of state should be asked. This is the question that Snowden has admitted was his final breaking point. He had proof that Clapper lied when asked the same question by Wyden. Obama, without being specifically asked this, lied about it months ago. It is an important question that all citizens deserve to have their leaders on record answering. That we are this far into the story and people still don’t understand why he asked it is amazing.

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