Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden made a surprise appearance on Thursday at Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual televised call-in with the nation.
Snowden's appearance gave Putin the opportunity to defend Russian surveillance, implicitly gaining Snowden's approval. Considering the tightly controlled circumstances of the rogue agent's asylum in Russia, the appearance has been widely seen as a PR stunt.
David Herszenhorn, a Moscow-based reporter for The New York Times, called it a "stunning in-your-face move" by the Kremlin.
Snowden asked Putin: "Does Russia store, intercept, or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify a place in societies rather than subjects under surveillance?"
Putin said he would answer by talking as one professional spy to another, noting his past as a KGB agent and Snowden's past in the NSA before he leaked thousands of documents exposing U.S. surveillance programs.
"Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law ... " Putin said, according to a translation by Russia Today. "You have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person. We don't have a mass system of such interception. And according to our law, it cannot exist.
"Of course, we know that criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts, and special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes. Of course, we do some efforts like that. But we do not have a mass scale, uncontrollable effort like that. I hope we won't do that."
Putin added that Russia doesn't have the monetary or technical capabilities of U.S. programs.
Snowden's public appearance in Russia will likely add fuel to some U.S. lawmakers' claims that he has more extensive ties with Russia's government than he would like to admit. Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said last month that Snowden was "supporting, in an odd way," Russian expansion into Crimea.
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