Snowden Defends Question to Putin, Notes Russian President's Evasiveness


Ask him if his refrigerator is running!
RT Screenshot

Earlier in the week, Edward Snowden popped up on Russian television asking President Vladimir Putin if the country engages in mass surveillance of the communications of Russian citizens. Putin, of course, denied it. Matthew Feeney wrote about the exchange yesterday, along with responses from folks who worry it's a sign Snowden is under the influence of the Russian government or perhaps having to play ball to protect his amnesty there.

Today, The Guardian published Snowden's response to those who were critical of his appearance. He notes that Putin's responses did appear evasive and would hardly put the matter to rest in Russia:

There are serious inconsistencies in his denial—and we'll get to them soon—but it was not the president's suspiciously narrow answer that was criticized by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

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 criticize 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 investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia's surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as "extremely important for Russia". According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

Others have pointed out that Putin's response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader—a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

Snowden goes on to point out the surveillance system put in place to monitor all communications at the Sochi Olympics. It seems as though Snowden is hoping to use Putin's obvious desire to embarrass the United States to push for Russia to be more transparent as well. But given that Russia treats its protesters and dissidents significantly differently (as in, much, much worse) than America, it may be a little much to expect anything resembling the open debates we're having here.

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  1. Once again, every time Snowden opens his mouth, I am consitently impressed by his courage and honorableness.

    Anyone who has anything bad to say about this guy can eat my shit.

    1. Same.

      I understand that the debate about NSA surveillance should be made independent of the messenger — but I have to say, Snowden’s a damn good messenger, and I am impressed with his moral character.

      Perhaps he is a bit naive, but that is a small character flaw in the grand scheme of things.

      1. Without that wee bit of naiivete, we’d have nothing concrete about the NSA for public consumption.

        IOW, it’s not a character “flaw”. I grant that no one is perfect, but if he gets “offed” it will be because of his character, not because of his character flaw.

    2. You’re a fool if you think that. The moment he does something that makes his new president feel uncomfortable he’s going to be on a plane going back to his previous one.

      Whatever you think about his actions in the past, there is no courage in what he did in this incident. It was a pot-shot at the US, whether it was coerced or merely impulsive.

  2. I read the translation of Putin’s response, and it seemed more or less to be saying (in reply to, “Do you conduct similar mass surveillance of Russians?”

    “We would if we could but we can’t so we don’t”

    Which I suppose you could call “Candidly evasive”.

    The thing does smell a bit like a PR stunt, and has about as much practical value as asking someone “are you lying now?” No matter what the answer you’re still left with nothing.

  3. folks who worry it’s a sign Snowden is under the influence of the Russian government or perhaps having to play ball to protect his amnesty there

    Questioning the Russian leader about surveillance is “playing ball”? What? Unless they’re thinking that he was put up to the question so that Putin could say “no”, but…really? Why bother in the first place?

    1. Delivering a softball question about whether he’s as bad as the horrible hypocritical US is very much playing ball.

      It’s like asking Obama whether he would make black people sit in the back of the bus like Rand Paul and calling it “questioning the president about racism”.

  4. I liked how Snowden’s point-blank question puts Putin definitively on the record as having denied that type of surveillance.
    Should such denied programs come to light, perhaps there will be a bit more egg on Putin’s face.

    1. Was Putin’s answer “No, not wittingly”?

    2. Should such denied programs come to light, perhaps there will be a bit more egg on Putin’s face.

      Like the egg on Obama’s face? And Russians are far more tolerant of authoritarianism.

  5. That guy’s got a set on him.


  7. Mr. Snowden: When it’s storming with thunder and lighting outside, it’s probably not the best idea to pick a fight with the manager of the homeless shelter.

  8. Edward Snowden is most definitely an imbecile. He’s being used by his master and has absolutely no clue. Yep, you’re really holding Putin and Russia to account. You’re so, so clever Edward Snowden. You’re really put Putin in a bind. You got him now Edward Snowden.

    Wake the fuck people or you’re just as stupid as Edward Snowden.

    1. Hey, Putin’s scum
      Got your 85 rubles?

      1. How do you figure I support Putin?

        Good help the future of libertarianism.

    2. I apologize, you’re a neocon troll. Got confused.

      1. Haha… am I? I’m pretty sure Reason has evidence that I’m not a troll.

        1. Again, sorry for confusing anti-Snowden and pro-Putin trolls. You all look the same pro-authority trolls to me, just with different flavors. Snowden is a hero and a true American patriot. He didn’t do anything bad per se asking Putin about the surveillance in Russia. This is a proper question to ask. What he hasn’t realized is the degree of the propaganda contribution involved in his participation in Putin’s annual question and answer show. I know how bad it is because I’m Russian. A year ago most Westerners didn’t know how staged this show was just because they didn’t pay any attention to Russia. It would be as unfair to place any blame on Snowden for asking a question during this show as it is unfair to blame a foreigner for not realizing that, for example, the New York Times is the house organ of the Democratic Party. Most people outside of the US believe it’s a fair and balanced newspaper since they never read it.

          1. You’d fit right in with Putin thinking anyone who disagrees with you is a troll.

            It’s clear that Snowden could eat babies for breakfast live on Russia Today and people here would find excuses to call it an inspirational act of heroic patriotism. If he didn’t know how that question would be used, just from the wording, he’s a fool. Assuming he was given that question to ask.

            Who knows the origin of the text sent to the Guardian in Snowden’s name. It’s pretty safe to say that he has no communication with the outside world that is unapproved by the Kremlin at this point.

  9. Snowden’s morning-after backpedalling notwithstanding, the question was clearly intended as a pot-shot at the US. He didn’t ask whether Russia surveiled its citizens, he asked whether it surveilled “millions of its citizens” — an obvious reference to the NSA issues. Either that or Snowden is OK with surveilling 999,999 Russians.

    Suggesting that this is good because it “puts Putin on record” is ridiculous. Obama was on record too, and when it turned out he was speaking falsely most Americans just shrugged and said it was necessary for protecting us. You think the reaction of the Russian people is going to be more skeptical and unforgiving if it turns out Putin was lying?

    1. Bingo. Snowden is a fool, Putin’s fool to be precise.

  10. It’s a regular neocon retard rodeo on here! Yee ha!

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