20 April 2014


Vladimir Putin's response to last week's phone-in question by Edward Snowden prompts thoughts of Mandy Rice Davis, ie "well he would say that, wouldn't he".

The US Daily Beast aptly but rather unkindly commented that -
Sorry, Snowden: Putin Lied to You About His Surveillance State - And Made You a Pawn of It
Putin just trolled President Barack Obama and the entire U.S. intelligence community. He trolled them hard.
On live Russian television Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who exposed America’s dragnet surveillance of call records and internet traffic, asked the Russian leader whether Moscow does the same: “Does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?”
Not to worry, Putin tells America’s most famous intelligence leaker: “We don’t have a mass system for such interception and according to our law it cannot exist.”
That statement may be true in a parallel universe where Crimean citizens all on their own with no orchestration from Russia spontaneously voted to join the Russian federation after random mercenaries with no ties to Moscow seized its airports and government buildings.
... on Thursday Snowden looked to some like he was participating in a Soviet-style propaganda play. “Whatever else Snowden might think he has been doing, surely he must understand he was just used as a prop by the president of the Russian federation,” said Michael Hayden, a former NSA and CIA director under the George W. Bush administration who has been one of his former agency’s most ardent public defenders. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has also been critical of Snowden and the journalism his leaks have helped produce said, “It speaks volumes that Snowden lends his name to Putin’s propaganda efforts.”
Galeotti says he found the display of Snowden’s question for Putin on eavesdropping to be depressing. “I believed he was an honest man who made some stupid choices,” says Galeotti. “But in this case he was doing what was in his handler’s interests.”
“We have to think of two Snowdens,” Galeotti tells The Daily Beast. “There was the original whistleblower who thought he was doing something good for the world. Now there is the Snowden—to put it crassly—who is bought and paid for entirely by the Russians. The Russians are not altruistic, if they are protecting him they are doing so because there are things he can do to repay them.”
But not everyone viewed Snowden’s appearance with Putin so negatively. Jesselyn Radack, one of Snowden's American lawyers, said, "Unfortunately it can play into the incorrect meme that he is some how being controlled by Russia." Radack added however that Snowden's question should not be judged by Putin's response. "The public is capable of making their own determination of whether they find Putin or Obama credible. It’s not that bizarre or sensational that he asked the question."
... Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who has written extensively on government surveillance, said “The best you can say about this is he may have thought he was trying to broaden the conversation to talk about Russian surveillance. If that is the case, this is probably a naïve way to go about it." Sanchez said Snowden began "a healthy conversation for us in the United States to be having about mass scale government surveillance. It would be equally healthy for the Russians to have a similarly open conversation.”
One problem for Snowden now is that he is at the mercy of the Russian government. In June Snowden will likely have to reapply for temporary asylum again in Russia. "The United States has stranded him in Russia by revoking his passport and making him dependent on the good will of Putin," Radack said. "He is not being controlled by Russia and he is certainly not a spy. Anyone who would use his question to try to portray him in that way is not really paying attention to what is happening in our own country."
Snowden responded in The Guardian to criticism, saying
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 criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. 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. 
Edward Lucas earlier commented -
I freely admit that it is possible that Snowden conceived his plan on his own, and with honourable if mistaken motives. It may well be that his allies are without exception enthusiastic and careless but not actually malevolent. It may be that Russia has watched the whole affair with bemusement, was reluctant to offer asylum, and is eager for him to leave. It is possible that Vladimir Putin is entirely sincere, if ineffective, when he says he wants no damage to be done to America as a result of Snowden's sojourn. It is all possible.
As first year law students learn, there is somewhat of a difference between what is possible and what is probable.