On a televised question-and-answer session with Vladimir Putin on the Russian state-controlled RT network, Edward Snowden made an appearance via video and asked Putin about whether Russia engages in mass surveillance. That’s a generous explanation of what happened. The reality is that Snowden, knowingly or unknowingly (see “useful idiot” theory), offered Putin a fantastic propaganda coup to both criticize the U.S. and to make it seem as if Russia’s intelligence community is both mindful of civil liberties and well-regulated — and all in response to Snowden himself who, among his supporters, can do no wrong.
I don’t really subscribe to the theory that Snowden was nor is a Russian agent — the theory that he all along planned to steal NSA documents in order to deliver them to the Russian counterpart to NSA, the FSB. However, I’m much more accepting of the idea that once he made contact with Moscow-affiliated WikiLeaks, he’s basically been under the control of the Russian government, which has offered him unlimited asylum, an FSB attorney and other protections. This kind of support isn’t free. There needs to be something in it for Putin.
It’s unknown whether the FSB got its hands on Snowden’s documents, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be Putin’s only reward. There’s a propaganda victory in Snowden’s Moscow presence that’s been working quite well for Russia: the very notion that while the U.S. is hunting a “hero of the people,” Russia is protecting a “hero of the people.” That’s not insignificant especially at a time when Russia is acting with such egregious bellicosity.
And so we have today’s RT video in which Snowden began by criticizing the U.S. and instead of likewise criticizing Russia, he asked Putin a question about Russia’s use of surveillance, allowing Putin a huge opportunity to whitewash his intelligence community, making it seem far less intrusive and considerably more acceptable than NSA. Considering everything that’s happened so far, it’s not unfair to question whether this might’ve been the point of RT, which is financed by the Russian government, to invite Snowden onto the Putin Q&A. I hasten to qualify: I’m not saying it was staged, but it’s fair to ask the question.
After all, Snowden, through actions and deeds, has been more critical of the U.S. intelligence community than anyone else in history. Yet he lobbed a huge softball to Putin, even though Russia’s surveillance trespasses are well-known. All he has to do is to Google “SORM” for starters and go from there.
Do I even need to get into Putin getting buddy-buddy with Snowden? “Mr. Snowden, you are a former spy. I used to work for an intelligence agency. We can talk one professional language.” And then I’ll buy you dinner at Cheesecake Factory!
Whatever Snowden’s intentions, this again falls into the Bill Maher theory that every time Snowden appears in public, something batshit happens.