Edward Snowden

Snowden Asks Putin if Russia Conducts Mass Surveillance

|

Today, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared on Vladimir Putin's annual call-in program to ask the Russian president about Russian surveillance:

Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze 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 their subjects, under surveillance?

The first question doesn't sound much different from the question Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in March 2013, months before the first of Snowden's revelations were published.

Putin responded (according to Russia Today's translation) that "the American version of English is a little different from the kind of English I am used to." After having Snowden's questions translated to him, Putin said that given both he and Snowden's backgrounds in intelligence he would speak to Snowden with "one professional language."

Putin went on the say that Russia does not have the technology or the money to carry out mass surveillance on millions of people and that Russia's intelligence work is "strictly regulated by our law." Putin also said that under Russian law mass surveillance "cannot exist."

Watch a video of the exchange below:

Putin's comments came shortly after Pavel Durov, the founder of "Russia's Facebook" (Vkontakte), said that the Russian Federal Security Service had demanded information on Ukraine's Euromaidan organizers. Durov refused to hand over the information.

According to Brett Logiurato at Business Insider, Snowden's appearance "has been widely seen as a PR stunt."

David Herszenhorn, a Moscow-based reporter for The New York Times, tweeted that the appearance was a "stunning in-your-face move" by the Kremlin. 

Snowden's appearance will almost certainly be used by anti-Snowden lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

In January, Rogers claimed Russian intelligence officials may have helped Snowden steal information from the NSA. Last month, Rogers said that he believes Snowden is "under the influence of Russian intelligence services."

In February, King said that the Russians  "had to have access" to the documents Snowden took when he left the U.S. and that the Chinese "have it all, too."

Advertisement

NEXT: Tonight: Jesse Walker Discusses Conspiracy Theories in Houston

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The Russians have our secrets. The Chinese have our secrets. The American People however have access to nothing but leaks from Russia, China and Washington. In that order. Sucks.

  2. “Snowden’s appearance will almost certainly be used by anti-Snowden lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).”

    Wait, the talking points keep changing. I thought Snowden was to blame for *not* calling Putin to account for his surveilling ways.

    1. That was my reaction. If it later turns out that Putin lied half as much to Snowden’s question as Clapper lied to Wyden’s question, then this will have turned out to be an anti-regime event rather than a pro-regime one.

      1. You really think the Russian state controlled media set up Putin for an Ed Snowden gotcha moment? That’s kind of funny

        1. Maybe Putin is trying to make propaganda, but I don’t think he’ll fool a lot of people – especially not in his own country.

          Do you think Russians are going to be like, “Putin said he’s not spying on us – let’s speak openly about how much he sucks, knowing that he won’t learn about what we say!”

          1. Do you think Russians are going to be like, “Putin said he’s not spying on us – let’s speak openly about how much he sucks, knowing that he won’t learn about what we say!”

            Having been there a few times, I think Russians are going to be like Americans. They suspect they’re being spied on and still openly speak about how Putin sucks, when in their opinion, he sucks, and Medvedev is a closet homo. None of this shit matters to the average person until it affects them personally.

            1. OK, I defer to your experience. But it seems they’re not going to be fooled by Putin’s denials.

              1. I asked my average wife(Russian) about this show. She thinks it was staged. She also is pretty certain Russians are being spied on and related some anecdotal incident where her and a friend’s telephone repetitive conversation was interrupted with “Gosh, I can’t listen to you anymore”. She said it wasn’t funny then, but is kind of funny now.

  3. Hm, while I agree with what Snowden has done and also think his detractors (King especially) are mostly illogical assholes, I think this was indeed a bad move, PR-wise. Which makes me wonder what was motivating it; Snowden has thus far appeared to be much smarter than that. Perhaps another shoe is imminently dropping.

    1. Bad move for who? Not for Putin, so I suspect this is how Snowden is paying the rent on his old Russkie home.

      1. What, “you scratch my back, I’ll refrain from breaking yours”?

        1. Precisely. Which looks like a damn fine deal when the option you leave behind is “you scratch my back wait nevermind I don’t give fuck I will crush you like a bug.”

    2. He doesn’t want to get deported.

      He’s in a corner and needs a country to protect him with a relative amount of freedom. Being at Putin’s call is better than stewing in SuperMax…

      1. Or maybe he actually thinks Russia is better on privacy issues than the USA.
        Hell, maybe he even called in to ask a question because he wanted to know the answer.
        Maybe he just likes the publicity.
        Conjecture is fun

    3. And nothing he does PR-wise for Russia will change my opinion of him one iota. He did this country an unprecendented service at the cost of everything he ever considered to be his life, and likely his freedom for whatever remains of his life. If the cost was becoming a puppet for Moscow, I salute him just the same.

      1. Likewise.

    4. I think this was indeed a bad move, PR-wise.

      What kind of dipshit gives a flaying fuck about PR moves?

      It’s a goddamned ballsy move in the direction of liberty. He pretty much set up Putin to lie to the entire country. Snowden may already have his next move planned anyway.

      1. He pretty much set up Putin to lie to the entire country.

        I’m not sure “we don’t have the money nor the technological capability to do mass surveillance” is going to turn out to be a lie. It sure isn’t the type of answer you would expect from someone that normally tries to evoke nationalistic pride.

        1. It is EXACTLY the type of answer one should expect from someone that normally tries to evoke nationalistic pride. Every word that comes out of Obama’s mouth – and the officeholders that preceded him – is an attempt to evoke nationalistic pride.

          (Well, maybe not “I did not have relations with that woman.”)

          1. It is EXACTLY the type of answer one should expect from someone that normally tries to evoke nationalistic pride.

            Okay, maybe saying your country is too poor and stupid to do something might evoke pride in somebody. I just can’t imagine who it is.

            1. Changing the words to match what you want to believe; how trollish of you.

              Since you decided to play that way, then the pride comes in the implied “We wouldn’t waste money on that but Americans would.”

              Or one could look at it as “We’d love to do the same thing but it’s super-duper expensive and the wise taxpayers of Russia won’t allow us.”

              The idea that the Russian government is poor is laughable. Stupid, I’ll grant; they’re government after all.

      2. The kind of dipshit that might want to, someday, return to the US. As Snowden has said he wants to do.

        The kind of dipshit that is trying to raise awareness of a key issue and steer clear of distracting noise. As Snowden has said he wants to do.

        Fuck ballsy moves, I want ballsy results. I don’t want another martyr, I want a god damned winner.

    5. Snowden has thus far appeared to be much smarter than that.

      What has he done that appeared smart so far?

      His claim to fame is taking responsibility for disclosures that were guaranteed to make the Obama administration go ape shit on his ass, and then randomly criscrossing the globe looking for a country that would take him.

  4. I told you people Putin brought Snowden to Russia to use him as propaganda and that Snowden is an imbecile.

    Putin is pretty dang smart, which is scary.

    1. What would you have Snowden do? He found one place he could remain alive and free, and if the price is being Moscow’s obvious puppet, that’s on the US for making that a better option for him.

      1. sorrry, “free” is certainly overstating it, but more free that Supermax

      2. Horse shit! He found Russia? Russia came to him and Snowden went to Russia willingly. Going to Russia to be Putin’s little propaganda play thing is totally on Snowden.

        Edward Snowden is an imbecile. Wake the fuck up!

        1. Going to Russia to be Putin’s little propaganda play thing is totally on Snowden.

          Nope. It’s on the U.S. government for forcing him to flee for exposing their crimes.

          1. The U.S. government didn’t force him to flee. Edward Snowden chose to flee himself.

            You’re defending stupidity man. Never defend or worship stupidity.

            1. I see you’re a member of the Harry Reid “taxes are voluntary” school of thought.

              1. You’re comment makes no sense whatsoever.

                1. Yeah, you wouldn’t understand the analogy, would you.

                  1. The analogy makes no sense. Why don’t you explain it to me? How am I like Harry Reid?

                    Y’all really be more intelligent than this if you’re wanting libertarianism to be successful. Stupidity isn’t going to cut it.

                    1. Edward Snowden doesn’t flee = he goes to jail.

                      Edward Snowden doesn’t pay his taxes = he goes to jail.

                      Harry Reid says taxes are voluntary. You say Edward Snowden fleeing was voluntary.

            2. He went to Hong Kong, and was on his way to South America when the US government stranded him in Russia.
              Russia was not his intended destination.

              1. Moscow is a little out of the way for travelling to S.A. from Hong Kong isn’t it?

              2. Actually Russia was his intended destination. He talked about wanting to go elsewhere, but he willingly flew to Russia and has taken up residence there.

                Now he’s being used by Russia to divide people in the West and to support his own autocratic regime in Russia. Snowden is the chattel property of Putin now.

                1. Whereas if he stayed in the good ol US of A he’d be more free? JFC man, who’s being obtuse?

                  1. Yes, he’d be given due process. And it would have been easier for people like you to help him get a fair trial.

                    What can you do for him while he’s in Russia?

                    1. Well that should have comforting. People “like us” to help him get a fair trial.

                      Under those circumstances, fleeing seems absolutely crazy, doesn’t it?

                    2. MWG,

                      That’s your burden as an American citizen man. Helping people out so they’re not totally screwed by our government.

                    3. Ok Lyle,

                      How about some specifics. What exactly could we have done to help Snowden out, specifically?

                    4. Bullshit. Secret trial, sealed forever. USA, USA, USA!

                    5. Yes, he’d be given due process.

                      [citation needed]

                    6. The U.S. Constitution man. Stand up and fight for it if the government is undermining it. Never be afraid to stand up for your fellow Americans in their time of need.

                    7. What do you think Snowden did?

                    8. Umm, he like made public foreign secrets. That’s a crime man.

                    9. Now THAT’S specific.

        2. Are you retarded. Snowden was in transit to South America when his passport was revolked. The only reason he is in Russia is because the US State Department stranded him there. He has NO CHOICE.

          1. Nonsense. He got on a plane that flew him to Moscow. He now has willingly taken up residence in Russia.

      3. And I’m not so sure he’s going to be alive and free in Russia for the remainder of his life. When Putin is done with him, Snowden better start watching his back and everything he eats.

        1. I have no doubt that Snowden IS watching his back, and is probably trying to arrange asylum in a Western democracy as we speak.

          1. He should be doing this if he’s smart. And people who want him to live and be free, should work to see that he leaves Russia pronto.

          2. By the way if he wanted to go somewhere else, like South America or a Western country, why hasn’t Russia flown him there? Russia doesn’t give a shit about international law or the United States right?

            1. Uh… because no South American country (Brazil in particular) will take him.

              1. Umm, the guy said Snowden is probably working on going somewhere else. If he was doing that why wouldn’t it have happened already? Russia would just fly him to another country that would take him.

                I don’t think Russia is going to let him leave. He’s their little propaganda toy now. And I don’t think Snowden has been trying to leave because he has no clue that he’s Putin’s little propaganda toy.

                1. He actually did try to come to Brazil, who rejected the idea. That was only a few months ago.

            2. And possibly because the payment for Russia protecting him from the international manhunt is for him to be Moscow’s propaganda straight man for a while.

    2. “I told you people Putin brought Snowden to Russia to use him as propaganda and that Snowden is an imbecile.”

      Who ever questioned that Putin was using Snowden for his own propaganda purposes?

      Your profound and insightful observation has been obvious to everyone since day one!

      So what does that have to do with anything?

      Because Snowden is being used by Putin for propaganda purposes, do you imagine that makes the Obama Administration any less disgraceful for willingly and purposely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of hundreds of American citizens?

      If Snowden had been a useful idiot, a propaganda dupe, a convicted bank robber and murderer, a wife-beater, a tax evader, and a fanatical Belieber, that wouldn’t change anything about Barack Obama’s disgraceful behavior!

      This isn’t about Snowden.

      It’s about Barack Obama using the Constitution as toilet paper.

      1. “Do you imagine that makes the Obama Administration any less disgraceful for willingly and purposely violating the Fourth Amendment rights of hundreds [of millions] of American citizens?”

        Fixed!

        1. it’s okay, I’m a bad typist and proofreader myself

      2. Excuse me, but lots of people haven’t seen Snowden being used as a propaganda tool. He got a standing ovation recently from a an Austin, Texas crowd. Those people had no idea that a propaganda stunt was being performed for them. Why worship and lionize a man who is not smart enough to realize he’s being used as a propaganda tool?

        Snowden also gave up legitimate state secrets, like spying going on against foreigners. He’s going to have to answer for that one day unfortunately.

        Anyway, you should work on getting him back to U.S. It’s probably the only safe place for him as an American. Think how much you can support him, if he’s physically in the United States. His life is in danger if he remains in Russia.

        1. Maybe we can protect him as much as we could protect Bradley Manning?

          (Not equivalent actions by the two but the treatment by the Feds would be very similar and there would be equally jack shit any of us could do about it.)

          1. Yep, protecting him and lionizing him like Bradley Manning is how it works in America. It works a totally different way in Putin’s Russia. Like people just get killed.

            1. I prefer to lionize him while he has the potential to still be a voice against the dispicable overreaching of the US government rather than while he is silenced in Supermax.

              He decided that potentially-shortened life was preferable to certain silence in a cell, and I find that admirable. Certainly you can at least find it rational.

              1. He has no clue about Putin man!!! He has no clue how much trouble he could be in for.

                1. And yet he could still rationally prefer that ambiguity to the certainty he faced at home.

                  Sometimes the devil you don’t know really is prefereable.

        2. “He got a standing ovation recently from a an Austin, Texas crowd. Those people had no idea that a propaganda stunt was being performed for them.”

          You’re conflating two different things.

          1) There’s what Snowden did–in revealing the disgraceful and unconstitutional behavior of the NSA and the Obama Administration.

          2) There’s Putin giving Snowden safe harbor–for Putin’s own interests–in making himself look good by comparison to his critics in Washington and elsewhere.

          Which one of those things do you think that audience in Austin was applauding?

          Just because Snowden is being used by Putin for propaganda purposes in no way changes anything about the truth of what the Obama Administration is doing to the American people.

          Snowden is a red herring at this point! Although it took a lot of courage to reveal the truth to the American people, and for revealing the truth, the American people should appreciate that!

          Now if Putin wants to use Snowden as propaganda, that’s to Barack Obama’s disgrace. Obama can’t make it impossible for a man to leave Russia and then blame Snowden because he’s at the mercy of a dictator!

          1. They were applauding the former, but only because the whole video call was the latter.

            It’s hilarious and scary all at the same time. Putin is a smart dude and that ain’t good.

            1. Nobody here is a fan of Putin.

              1. No libertarians or Americans are a fan of Putin. Really?

                I’m also not saying the Austin festival folk are fans of Putin either, just that they had no clue that they were being shown propaganda.

  5. PR stunt… you mean propaganda, right?

  6. More than just propaganda, this is another dig Putin is getting at Obama. I can’t remember any other time in which a leader from Russia/USSR has made a US president look like such a lightweight over and over again.

    1. My Obot acquaintances used to use the “Obama’s 3D Vulcan chess” line. Now they’ve stopped defending the Obamessiah, and a few have openly turned on him.

  7. Since Tony is not here, it means he agrees with everything that is being said about the government’s actions.

  8. Putin: we only do surveillance upon court-issued warrant
    Obama: we only do surveillance upon court-issued warrant

    It’s all technically true, but when you can call a secret, unaccountable rubber-stamp organization a “court,” the truthfulness of those answers means nothing.

  9. It isn’t surprising to find that someone whose freedom depends on the kindness of a dictator is beholden to that dictator.

    If Snowden asking Putin whether Russia does NSA style mass surveillance is shameful, then the Obama Administration should be ashamed of themselves for chasing Snowden out of the country for telling the American people the truth about Barack Obama’s government.

    Just because it’s propaganda, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Obama really should be embarrassed about his behavior in regards to mass surveillance, and if Obama is so easily embarrassed about the NSA, then that isn’t the fault of Snowden or Putin.

    That’s all on Barack Obama.

    Did you know that Obama used to teach classes on the Constitution at the University of Chicago?

    1. “Did you know that Obama used to teach classes on the Constitution at the University of Chicago?”

      Considering Obama’s behavior in office, especially in regards to the Fourth Amendment, isn’t that disgraceful?

      And it would be disgraceful regardless of whether Snowden asked Putin that question in a propaganda news conference.

    2. If there was ever a college lecture I’d want to see on you tube…

  10. Yeah, um the Russians do not pretend that their FSB shit needs to go through courts. They do not even pretend that they need to tell the truth about it. I don’t think anyone labors under the delusion that the FSB doesn’t spy on whoever it wants, and the government just flat out lies about it. Come on.

    1. This isn’t about equivalence.

      Nothing Putin does is justified by Obama doing similar things, and nothing Obama does is justified by Putin doing similar things either.

      If there’s anything morally equivalent about this, it’s that they’re both disgraceful.

    2. Yeah, um the Russians do not pretend that their FSB shit needs to go through courts.

      Well, yes they do. That was pretty much the gist of Putin’s answer. Got anything more other than your…assumption?

      1. Note that Putin was careful to say “MASS surveillance” over and over. Individual surveillance is not covered.

  11. I don’t get the argument that Snowden is being used as a propaganda tool here. He asked the quasi-dictator of the Russian state if they were conducting surveillance on millions of people right to his face in a public forum..

    When has anyone dared confront the current President of the United States in such a manner? Joe the Plumer on taxation? This is the sort of thing the press used to ask our leader in open press conferences all the time.

    Perhaps Putin wanted the chance to say Russia doesn’t spy on its people, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a good question to ask and getting an actual answer from your leadership on that question would be a good thing.

    1. I don’t get the argument that Snowden is being used as a propaganda tool here. He asked the quasi-dictator of the Russian state if they were conducting surveillance on millions of people right to his face in a public forum..

      ummm…you realize that Snowden wasn’t actually in the same room when he asked the question, right? It was a call in show and Snowden happened to get a video link. Pretty dumb move for a quasi dictator KGB master to get punked on his own call in show isn’t it?

      1. haha. awesome. i wish more people here were as clever as you.

        1. You’re ignoring what most people here are saying:

          1) Snowden is a giant-brass-balls-possessing hero for exposing the US surveillance secrets.

          2) He would never again have seen the outside of a Federal penetentiary other than being tried in secret proceedings had he stayed in the US.

          3) Russia protected him from an international manhunt, and there was likely an unpleasant price to pay for that protection. Being used as propaganda by Moscow looks like part of that price.

          4) Choosing Russia over the US given those options is entirely rational.

          1. I would only add that Obama is also using Snowden for propaganda purposes.

            He’s using Snowden to scare other would-be whistle blowers, and he’s using Snowden to demonize and distract people away from the real issue!

            Which is NSA surveillance.

            1. Ken,

              No doubt Obama and the government will do whatever it is to scare and distract. It’s not exactly the same as Putin though. Snowden will see no due process whatsoever from Vladimir Putin. Snowden has the American people to support him, but no while he’s in Russia.

              1. “It’s not exactly the same as Putin though.”

                I didn’t say they were morally equivalent.

                I just said they were both disgraceful.

                They’re both disgraceful in their own ways. Who’s comparing Putin to Obama, here?

                Only Putin!

                So what?

                Just because Putin is awful doesn’t mean Obama isn’t also awful in his own way.

                Obama is a traitor to the Constitution. He’s a traitor to the Fourth Amendment. Obama has violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of millions of American citizens.

                Why would Putin comparing himself to Obama change that?

                Why would Snowden playing a dupe for Putin change that?

                Obama is responsible for what Obama has done–no matter what Putin says and no matter what Snowden does.

          2. I’m not ignoring what you’re saying. I know what you’re saying. You’re just wrong though.

            You’re free to worship stupidity and watch Edward Snowden be totally played with by Putin.

            1. Lyle you’re being ridiculous. You’ve heard of a dilemma, right? When you’re presented with two or more shitty options and have to choose one? Choosing what you find to be the least shitty option cannot be considered stupidity.

              In any case, the guy could be a Marx’s-knob-slobbing Communist who eats babies, it wouldn’t change the facts that he exposed about our government’s attempts at secret Orwellian surveillance.

        2. I’m not claiming to be clever. None of this excuses the NSA for spying on Americans without a warrant.

          1. I’m saying you are clever man. I didn’t mean that as sarcasm. I agree with you.

      2. “ummm…you realize that Snowden wasn’t actually in the same room when he asked the question, right?”

        This is Tulpa-level density.

        1. Whoa, and right to my face! Derp

        2. Snowden was not in the studio with Putin, who angered U.S. President Barack Obama by refusing to send the American home to face espionage charges. He submitted his question in a video clip that a lawyer said had been pre-recorded.

    2. They do this at Obama press conferences, too.

      They have certain people they can call on for softball questions.

      “Mr. President, how do you feel about discrimination against people of color?”

      He fulfilled that role. All of those press conferences are choreographed.

      Here’s a propaganda video about Putin directing his own propaganda:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk_VszbZa_s

      This was used by Putin’s campaign!

      The only audience Putin really cares about is domestic (Russian), and apparently the idea of Putin orchestrating his own propaganda is popular there.

      1. That someone actually thinks this was some kind of off the cuff heroic journalistic inquiry that is going to damage Putin in the future is funny as hell.

        1. Snowden better watch out!

          He’s biting the hand that feeds him!

          What if he makes Putin mad, then where will he go?

          LOL

      2. “The only audience Putin really cares about is domestic (Russian)”

        But I doubt a domestic audience would believe him. Maybe he’s trying to reassure gullible foreigners?

        Anyway, it’s the lie, not the question, which is objectionable. Snowden didn’t tell Putin to lie.

        (I’m assuming he *is* lying, but technically I don’t have proof)

        1. I’m assuming he *is* lying, but technically I don’t have proof

          I think when he said: “We don’t have the money nor the technological capability to do mass surveillance” he wasn’t lying.

          Whether he would if he could wasn’t asked, so technically I don’t know that he lied at all.

          1. I think when he said: “We don’t have the money nor the technological capability to do mass surveillance” he wasn’t lying.

            You are delusional.

            1. What does delusion have to do with an opinion? It’s no skin off my back if you think the Russians are rich people that can read brain waves

            2. Kind of ironic you think Russians are capable of spying on their population en masse but can’t prevent this:

              “a goddamned ballsy move in the direction of liberty. He pretty much set up Putin to lie to the entire country”

              all on their own state run TV broadcast.

      3. The only audience Putin really cares about is domestic

        I wouldn’t be so sure.

        Say you want to start a tech company but not be required to allow government surveillance backdoors in your product. And say you were looking for another country to set up shop since the US regulations require you to do what you explicitly don’t want to expose your customers to.

  12. For crying out loud.

    Putin just had Snowden absolve him of the same crime Snowden caught Obama and the NSA doing.

    Does anyone here really believe that Putin isn’t spying on the Russian people in ways the NSA can only dream about?

    Snowden did himself–and anyone who’se supported him– a great disservice in going along with that charade.

    1. All Snowden did was ask a question. Where did he give Putin absolution?

      State-run TV = lies. Do you really think Snowden doesn’t know that? You can call it a charade, Snowden probably would as well. Hell, the NSA is a charade.

      But state-run TV sure the hell isn’t absolution.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.