Mashable reports: In what could be best described as a bizarre PR stunt, Edward Snowden made a surprise appearance on live TV to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin whether he spies on his citizens.
Snowden, who has received asylum in Russia, appeared during Putin’s annual call-in show on Russian TV on Thursday, during which Putin answered questions from the public. It’s unclear whether Snowden’s appearance was staged, but his question gave Putin a chance to poke at his favorite target: the United States.
“Does Russia store, intercept, 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 a place in societies rather than subjects under surveillance?” Snowden asked Putin (see the full exchange in the video embedded below).
“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy. I used to work for the intelligence service, we are going to talk one professional language,” Putin said, according to translation by state-run TV channel Russia Today. “We don’t have as much money as they have in the States and we don’t have these technical devices that they have in the States. Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by society and the law and regulated by the law.”
Russia clearly has means to “respond” to terrorists and criminals who use technology, Putin added, but doesn’t have “uncontrollable efforts like [in America].”
What Putin didn’t say, however, is that Russia actually boasts one of the most sophisticated surveillance systems in the world, described by some as “PRISM on steroids.” This system, known as SORM, practically gives the Federal Security Service (FSB) direct access to Internet servers and telecommunications providers, allowing the government to eavesdrop on all online and phone communications that go through their networks. [Continue reading…]
No doubt Edward Snowden’s most loyal supporters will find ways of putting a positive spin on his TV performance, but neither of two of the most obvious ways in which it can be interpreted cast him in a favorable light.
If Snowden thought that he was promoting political freedom inside Russia by giving Putin the opportunity to assert, unchallenged, his commitment to the protection of privacy, then Snowden’s naivety is staggering.
If on the other hand, Snowden was “invited” to ask his question with the understanding or expectation that this would result in some kind of quid pro quo — such as increasing the chance of him being offered permanent asylum — then he just demonstrated his willingness to function as a propaganda tool supporting Putin’s agenda.
Suppose the same question had been posed to Putin by the TV host. It would have merited no attention whatsoever. Of course Putin is going to cast his own security services as squeaky clean when the questioner has neither the opportunity, the means, or the motive to challenge the Russian president’s response.
There’s no question that Snowden’s appearance was a PR stunt. The question is: who instigated it?