Snowden & Putin Chat On Live Russian TV, Don't Really Hit It Off
Russian President Vladimir Putin is at it again. On Thursday, the Kremlin invited everybody's favorite anti-surveillance leaker (sorry, Julian Assange), Edward Snowden, onto Russian TV to chat to Putin about Russian surveillance. The exchange occurred during what The New York Times calls an annual call-in television program.
During the program, Putin sat in the center of a gigantic cylindrical desk that looks capable of flying to the moon while various people ask him questions. And then — who should call in but Snowden? I bet the Kremlin were super surprised.
Snowden kicked off his question by summarizing the complaints against the NSA's mass collection of data. Then, he turned the question over to Russia:
Now I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance. So I’d like to ask you: 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 subjects under surveillance?
Shockingly, Putin said no such programs exist in Russia. But he started off his answer by flattering Snowden with a little comparison between the two.
Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy. I used to be working for an intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language.
For those of you keeping track at home, Putin just compared his time in the KGB to Snowden's experience maintaining computer networks for the CIA in Sweden and working as an NSA contractor.
Once he'd made Snowden comfy, he gave a firm answer. (Putin answered in Russian; we used RT's translators for Putin's quote.)
First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law, so how special forces can use this kind of special equipment as they intercept phone calls or follow someone online, and you have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person. ...We don’t have a mass system of such interception and according to our law it cannot exist.
So calm down about surveillance, Russia. Your former KGB president just told you it's totally not happening.
An NYT reporter in Moscow called Snowden's TV appearance another move by Putin meant to anger the U.S., which seems to be more or less par for the course at this point.