With NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia still technically temporary, he’s doing his best to fit in. Today, that included a special appearance — or bizarre PR stunt — during a televised Q&A with Vladimir Putin, in which Snowden served up a chance for Putin to tell the world that Russia doesn’t spy on its citizens like the big bad U.S. does. “I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia's policy of mass surveillance,” said Snowden. “So I'd like to ask you: Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze the communication of millions?”
Putin, it’s safe to say, was not caught off guard by the line of inquiry.
First, Putin made things extra buddy-buddy by putting himself on the same level as the former government contractor. “Mr. Snowden, you are a former spy. I used to work for an intelligence agency,” Putin said. “We are going to talk one professional language.” (The Kremlin-backed propaganda news network RT introduced Snowden as having “revolutionized the world.”)
“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” he continued. “You have to get the court's permission to stalk a person. We don't have a mass system of interception. With our law, it cannot exist.” He added, of surveillance, “Of course we do this. But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”
A New York Times reporter in Russia called the appearance a “stunning in-your-face move” by the Kremlin, while an expert on the country’s security apparatus isn’t buying it:
@KiritRadia First, there is no parliamentary oversight of secret services. Second, the FSB is not required to show a warrant to anyone.— Andrei Soldatov (@AndreiSoldatov) April 17, 2014
Snowden, however, did not get a chance to press the issue.