Did Snowden just make a visa-renewal application directly to Putin live on Russian TV?

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?

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Comments

  1. James Whitney says:

    Whether or not Snowdon’s appearence on Russian TV was a PR stunt or not has no importance. PR stunts on U.S. TV are commonplace, and there are very few complaints. The point of this article is that either way the question is answered, Snowdon is somehow doing Russia a favor to the detriment of the interests of the American people. In fact it is thanks to him that we know that our government wants to know everything we think and might do, while it wants us to know nothing about what it thinks and might do. He has done us a great service.

    What Russia does with its very likely sophisticated surveillance capability has a great importance, especially to the Russian people, who are probably at least as well informed about this type of question as we Americans. Neither Russians nor Americans should accept what their leaders say as gospel.

  2. Paul Woodward says:

    Here’s how Snowdon could indeed have been acting to the detriment of the interests of the American people: Public opinion remains divided on whether he is a patriot and to the extent that his actions are perceived as supporting Russia, this will undermine the efforts of those in Congress who are pushing for serious intelligence reform.

    What is irrelevant is how vigorously Snowden’s supporters cheer him on. These kinds of expressions of support have next to no influence on wider public opinion and members of Congress are much more interested in opinion across their own districts than how politics plays out on Twitter or in the political blogosphere.

    I guarantee that at the NSA and in the White House, they will view Snowden’s appearance today as having played to their advantage.

  3. John Lappart says:

    All the folks who are suggesting Snowden is naive are not thinking
    nor seeing beyond the superficial, or perhaps are involved with The Empire’s form of hasbara. What Snowden did was provide an example of Russia’s officials making the same denials as USA officials such as Clapper and others lying to Senate panels. I believe Snowden intended