I was initially puzzled by the headlines recently accusing Snowden of being a patsy for Putin. What was the hook? Sure the implication has been there from the beginning but the timing seemed odd given that he’d just pointedly asked Putin about Russian mass surveillance. I must get getting naive. Reading the stories I learned that the very same act of questioning (no timid act when the man you’re questioning is not only a world renowned thug but your place of refuge from the homeland that drove you out) was the supposed proof of Snowden’s Russian loyalties. Supposedly the question was a softball intended to make Putin look good. What a bizarre reading. Was Wyden an NSA patsy when he interrogated Clapper, doing it all to make the agency look good? Leave it to the American media to transform an act of dissent into collaboration, common sense be damned.
Ed Pilkington reports for the Guardian:
Edward Snowden has defended his decision to appear on live Russian television, insisting his question to Vladimir Putin on mass surveillance was designed to hold the Russian president accountable and not, as critics have suggested, an act of compliant propaganda.
Writing for the Guardian, the whistleblower behind the National Security Agency leaks suggests he carefully framed the question to Putin, which he asked via video link in an annual televised call-in with the president on Thursday. Putin, Snowden writes, “denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter”.
In the phone-in, Snowden asked Putin: “Does Russia intercept, store or analyse, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?” ….
The wording was deliberately modelled, Snowden says, on the query of US senator Ron Wyden to the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, in March last year – almost three months before the NSA disclosures began – to which Clapper blatantly and inaccurately deniedthat the US government collected data on millions on Americans.
“The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange between Senator Ron Wyden and DNI James Clapper… and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion” from Putin, Snowden writes.
Snowden’s decision to take part in Putin’s annual live session, which traditionally features softball questions, prompted an outpouring of criticism against the former NSA contractor. He is in exile in Russia having been charged with three felonies by the US government in relation to the leak, including one count under the Espionage Act.
Stewart Baker, the NSA’s former general counsel, attacked Snowden in apost for Volokh Conspiracy blog on the Washington Post headlined “Snowden self-incriminates”. Baker wrote: “It sure looks as though Snowden is playing the Kremlin’s game here, serving up a pre-arranged softball on demand.”
Edward Lucas, a senior editor at the Economist who has attacked the leaker in an e-book called The Snowden Operation, told the Wall Street Journal the appearance had made him “look like a propaganda patsy of the Kremlin”. Lucas added that given how careful Snowden had been on this question, “it seems almost reckless. This raises all sorts of questions about the real conditions of his stay in Russia and his relationship with the Kremlin.”