– Snowden Asks Putin on Live TV If Russia Spies Like U.S. (Bloomberg, April 17, 2014):
Edward Snowden, the former U.S. security contractor under asylum in Russia, made a rare appearance today, asking President Vladimir Putin if the nation spies on its citizens like the U.S.
“Does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?” Snowden asked the former KGB colonel through a video link from an unidentified location during Putin’s annual live call-in show, broadcast nationwide from central Moscow.
Snowden’s disclosures about U.S. surveillance last year set off a global debate over the trade-offs between privacy and security. The London-based Guardian and Washington Post shared a Pulitzer prize this week for reporting on his revelations about the top-secret U.S. programs, which have led President Barack Obama to propose limits to surveillance.
“We do it of course, but we don’t allow ourselves such a massive, out-of-control scale,” Putin said about gathering communications in the fight against terrorism and financial crime, after a hasty translation by one of the television channel’s presenters.
“I hope we will not get there,” said Putin, who addressed the fugitive formally as “Dear Mr. Snowden.” “We don’t have the necessary technical means and funds as the U.S. does. Our special services are under strict control by the government and society.”
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the White House had no comment on Snowden’s appearance.
The U.S. has charged Snowden with espionage and the administration has repeatedly demanded that he be returned to the U.S., where he faces espionage charges.
Courts have split on whether the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk phone records is legal, while both a White House review group and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have said the program isn’t effective and should be stopped. A majority of the five-member privacy board said the program is illegal.
Snowden has said he worked alone in taking thousands of classified documents, denying claims made by American lawmakers that he was an agent for a foreign government. He was granted one year of asylum in Russia in August, after arriving in June from Hong Kong. It’s too early to say if he’ll apply for an extension, his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said in January.
Putin, who said last year that he’d never met the fugitive, has denied that Russian agents have worked with Snowden or invited him to fly through Moscow.
The appearance is a slap at Obama, who is threatening to ratchet up sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
Putin has accused U.S. and European leaders of closing their eyes to threats from extremists and nationalists in the neighboring country, a key transit route for Russian gas to Europe.
Today Putin took a jab at the U.S., blaming its surveillance programs for complicating talks with Europe.
“Sometimes it is very difficult to negotiate with them on geopolitical issues,” Putin said. “It is hard to negotiate with people who even at home whisper among themselves because they’re afraid the Americans are listening in.”
While Putin has asserted his right to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, the government in Kiev has accused Russia of fomenting unrest in its southern and eastern regions.
Snowden cited independent White House investigations and a federal report that mass surveillance programs are “ineffective” in stopping terrorism and they “unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens.”
Obama has defended electronic spying as a bulwark against terrorism while promising U.S. citizens and allies that he’ll put restraints on the government’s sweeping surveillance programs. U.S. data collection programs were expanded during President George W. Bush’s administration which, in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., won passage by Congress of the Patriot Act.
Last month, the U.S. leader released proposals based on recommendations from intelligence proposals for reworking data collection. Under the plan, which parallels legislation proposed in the House of Representatives, the government would no longer keep and hold mass phone records from U.S. companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. Carriers would be instructed to search their records for information based on requests from the government, which would be subject to judicial review.
The fixes proposed by Obama and top lawmakers still would let the government access phone and Internet records even though the NSA would no longer store the data. Technology and Internet company executives, including Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, have pressed the administration to take more steps to limit surveillance.