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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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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    arcan, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 6:57am

    Asylum

    In my opinion Putin pressured him to do it with the threat he would be deported back to the United States if he didn't comply. Normally he wouldn't due to the fact that Snowden has to appear impartial for his leaks on the US to have enough effect. But he is probably desperate for the PR boost atm.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:23am

      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.

       

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    Trevor, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:11am

    Hmm

    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 (http://americablog.com/2014/02/jason-jones-final-report-russia-video.html), so maybe he was trying to put Putin in a position of incriminating himself?

     

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      Adam V, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:16am

      Re: Hmm

      This was my thought as well. I wonder what we'll see shortly.

      Releasing information about Russia's recent history of spying would also (hopefully) end Congressman Rogers' continuous refrain of "Snowden's working for Putin!"

       

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      •  
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        JWW (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re: Hmm

        Then he had better release that information quickly, because right now he's making people susceptible in believing Congressman Rogers.

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:21am

      Re: Hmm

      Somehow I doubt he is trying to set Putin up. Remind us where Mr. Snowden is living? Do you really think he would do something there that would a.) get him arrested or b.) get him tossed to where the US authorities could get to him? Personally, I think Edward is smarter than that.

       

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      Fushta (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:31am

      Re: Hmm

      a smart person does not ask a question to which they don't already know the answer. Snowden already knew what Putin would say, whether it's a lie or not? *shrug*

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 12:00pm

        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.

         

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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:19am

    When a surfer gets bitten by a shark, it's sometimes called 'paying the rent'. And Mr. Snowden is definitely swimming with the sharks.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    > Perhaps he wanted to emphasize the disproportionate nature of NSA spying by contrasting it with Russia's approach

    Right, because good ol' Honest Vladimir Putin, former KGB agent (which he mentioned as part of his answer to the question) never tells a lie.

     

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    JWW (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:24am

    Well

    My opinion of Snowden has now dropped several notches.

    If you want people to think you a hero, do not assist in the promotion of megalomaniacal leaders.

     

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      angelbar (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 12:10pm

      Re: Well

      Remember... he is at the mercy of Putin at this time.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 12:34pm

      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.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:34am

    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?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:07am

      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?"

       

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    Anonymous Howard (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:36am

    Don't judge just yet

    I'd wait for him to do the explaining himself before making an opinion on his actions.

    Maybe he's adapting Ron Wyden's "I let you fuck yourself" tactics, or he were pressured into the situation (who's fault is it that he had to ask asylum from Russia?).

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:42am

      Re: Don't judge just yet

      I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a Russian equivalent to Snowden who has revealed docs to the press, and/or Greenwald and co are about to publish something about Russian spying

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2014 @ 3:13am

        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.

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:28am

      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.

      Hypocrites.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re: Don't judge just yet

        Well, apart from the whistleblowing, I have yet to see Snowden commit outright criminality and acts of war.

         

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re: Don't judge just yet

        First off, I'm not a bot.

        Second, if you have no problem with being caught in an outright spying campaign against ALL US citizens, then you're part of the PROBLEM.

         

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 11:58am

        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.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 3:49pm

        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.

         

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:41am

    Maybe he's getting desperate for a longer term solution than his one-year asylum in Russia. Maybe he's fishing for an extension to that. Or maybe that was a Snowden-cyborg.

     

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    inL_A (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:51am

    I'll reserve judgment until I know more. Just remember, Snowden wouldn't be in Russia if it were not for the US revoking his passport.

     

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    Jake, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:57am

    Maybe he's just finally realised he's got nothing left to lose and wanted to give Putin an opening to make the US look bad out of sheer spite.

     

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    OldMugwump (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:01am

    Snowden has balls of titanium

    I guess we knew that already, considering his history.

    But to tease the dragon that's sheltering you...wow.

    I can't see any motive other than to setup Putin as a liar.

     

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    jo (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:12am

    Snowden

    I don't think I would read to much into this other than what Jake, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:57am said.

     

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    Greg (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:19am

    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.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:22am

    My guess is someone suggested Snowden might show his appreciation of his host country's generosity. Maybe an asylum extension might go more smoothly than it otherwise could have done, and no other country seems to be stepping up to help.

     

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    identicon
    Guardian, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    here's a question about snowden

    HOW is snowden affording ot live and get by?

    no really whose paying his bills?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:31am

      Re: here's a question about snowden

      dude - he has a job in tech support. Came up a few interviews back. So he's doing like everyone else - working for a living :).

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:51am

      Re: here's a question about snowden

      I assume he has friends in Russia and that he qualifies for some welfare since he was granted asylum..duh?

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:26am

      Re: here's a question about snowden

      When you sell a bunch of state secrets to China, you don't have to worry about working for a while.

      Why do you think he took his "detour" over there before going to Russia?

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2014 @ 3:18am

        Re: Re: here's a question about snowden

        0/10
        China have nothing to learn about mass control and surveillance, they're the masters here. You're a massive idiot when it is known he gave those documents to journalists and the escaped, with absolutely nothing.

         

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    identicon
    Guardian, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:30am

    @17

    so if some person murders someone it then makes it ok to murder someone????

    NO IT DOESN'T and its the scope of it and the lack of oversight that is the BIG issue and hte invasion of innocent peoples lives.

    AND WHAT GIVES THE NSA AND GCHQ THE RIGHT TO KEEP KIDDY PRON IN XKEYSCORE DBASE? IS THAT OK?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:00am

      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

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    "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."

    Yeah, Putin told Obama to revoke his passport, you know who's boss now, heheheheheee....ehhhhhhh.

     

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:24am

    lol Snowden being Putin's puppet, like always. It warms my heart to see him rotting and spending the rest of his miserable days in Russia. They deserve each other.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:46am

      Re:

      Honestly...0/10 brah.

       

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      identicon
      AC, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 12:13pm

      Re:

      Well right now I trust Putin more than I would trust Obama or the USA government. you guys put people in jail for decades cause they committed a cyber crime, yet you let your rapists and murderers walk free. ya I would rather be in Russia than in the USA.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 3:18pm

        Re: Re:

        That's because you're a dingbat whack job. Good lord.... now I understand the complete lunacy of the Snowden brigade

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 3:38pm

      Re:

      Puppet? How does asking Putin to put himself on the record regarding his spying programs constitute being a puppet?

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:37am

    If we're going to demonize Snowden for throwing softball questions, then we should hold Congress to the same standards.

     

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    Brock Phillimore (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 9:43am

    I think he was just pointing out how over the top the US had gone on this spying thing. Even Russia has more respect for its people's rights in this area.

     

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    Sunhawk (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 10:12am

    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.

     

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    identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 10:25am

    Funny thing is...

    ... between those that are shouting he is this (King and Co) and those that shout is that (Mike and Co), seems that folks have forgotten that Mr. Snowden is human (with all the hope and horror that defintion can hold), like Mr. Putin, Mr. King, and the everyone else.

     

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    identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 10:27am

    Even more funny...

     

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    xz11111000000 (profile), Apr 17th, 2014 @ 11:22am

    Consider his situation

    For the want of another alternative, Snowden depends on Putin at this point and the clock is ticking on his visa.

    It's pretty obvious the Obama Administration is not inclined to offer him the opportunity to return to the US under any sort of a deal so he has now to make his way in the world by means available,

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 11:39am

    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.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 3:31pm

      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.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      qw, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 5:56pm

      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.

       

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    identicon
    tomczerniawski, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 12:03pm

    ...

    US government figures like Mike Rogers have repeatedly condemned Snowden as a possible Russian spy. Maybe Snowden decided to act the part to spite them.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 2:02pm

    So Hugo Chavez held marathon unscripted QandA sessions. New Jersey governor Chris Christie holds once a month where you can walk in off the street (not even metal detectors) and ask anything. Now Putin.

    Somehow, I do not expect POTUS to follow suit.

     

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    identicon
    Archilies, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 5:37pm

    Snowden.. Really?

    Not the real McCoy, great CGI!

     

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    identicon
    billy, Apr 17th, 2014 @ 7:04pm

    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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