Edward Snowden says he asked Vladimir Putin on live TV if Moscow conducts NSA-style surveillance on Russian citizens in order to get Putin’s answer on the record—not, as his critics charged, to be a prop for Kremlin propaganda.
“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, the former NSA contractor who leaked details of its mass domestic surveillance programs, wrote in an op-ed published in the Guardian on Friday.
Snowden was criticized after he asked Putin during an annual Q&A session on Thursday if Russia spies on its own citizens in a way similar to what the U.S. National Security Agency does. In that exchange, Putin denied Moscow conducts mass domestic surveillance, saying, “We do not allow ourselves to do this, and we will never allow this. We do not have the money or the means to do that.” Snowden was lambasted in some corners for apparently setting Putin up for a denial with a pre-packaged softball question.
But Snowden, who is living under temporary asylum in Russia says he asked the question knowing Putin would lie in his response in order to replicate the famous exchange between U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in which Clapper falsely claimed the U.S. does not conduct mass surveillance on Americans.
“I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program,” Snowden wrote.