One day after asking Russian President Vladimir Putin if his government conducts bulk surveillance on citizens similar to the U.S. National Security Agency, former contractor and classified surveillance program leaker Edward Snowden published a statement in The Guardian that said he wasn’t satisfied with Putin’s “evasive” answer.
“I’ve seen little public discussion of Russians own involvement in mass surveillance… Does Russia store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?” Snowden asked Putin during an RT interview Thursday.
“First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law… You have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person. We don’t have a mass system of such interception and according with our law, it cannot exist,” Putin responded. “But we don’t have a mass scale uncontrollable like that. We don’t have as much money as they do in the states.”
Snowden wrote the Friday op-ed in response to a wave of media criticism that alleged the leaker appeared on the show and asked the question to help “whitewash” the Russian president and his government.
“I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive,” Snowden said.
The former agency contractor, who has been granted asylum in Russia for one year, said Putin “denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter” when asked if such surveillance was morally defensible, and that the Russian president “must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama.”
“I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question — and Putin’s evasive response — in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it,” Snowden said.
According to the former “spy” as Putin referred to him, the Russian president’s response was “remarkably similar” to President Barack Obama’s “initial, sweeping denials” about the scale and scope of bulk NSA telephone and Internet data surveillance.
“That position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible,” Snowden said.
The former contractor said the question he posed during the Thursday interview was “intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in U.S. Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion.”
Clapper’s equally infamous lie, that the NSA did “not wittingly” conduct such surveillance on American citizens, was the “major motivating force” behind his decision to leak the cache of documents detailing secret surveillance programs to U.S. and UK media outlets.
Snowden hopes that during next year’s annual interview with Putin, more journalists will follow his lead and ask more questions about Russian surveillance, especially in light of the fact that the majority of media consumed by Russians is state-run.