MOSCOW April 17, 2014 -- Intelligence leaker Edward Snowden surprised the audience of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual question and answer call-in show by asking him if Russia has a mass surveillance program.
Snowden, who revealed American surveillance secrets by leaking sensitive documents from the National Security Agency, submitted his question to Putin via video.
Putin, a former Soviet KGB agent, began his response saying he would speak professionally from one spy to another. He denied that Russia has a mass surveillance program, saying it was against Russian law. He said Russian law enforcement only uses electronic surveillance in specific cases to catch criminals.
Andrei Soldotov, a Russian investigative journalist who has documented Russia’s electronic surveillance system, said there is much more to Russia’s surveillance program that Putin claimed.
“There is no parliamentary oversight of secret services,” he said in response via Twitter. “The FSB is not required to show a warrant to anyone,” he added, referring to Russia’s KGB successor, the Federal Security Services.
Soldotov’s investigations have dug deep into Russia’s sophisticated electronic surveillance program, called SORM. That system, he told ABC News earlier this year, rivals any set-up by American intelligence services. The Russian security services are hardwired into the telecommunications infrastructure in Russia, allowing them to tap into raw data whenever they want.
Last year Snowden fled the United States before leaking the classified information in Hong Kong. He eventually flew to Moscow, where he was trapped in the airport for weeks after the United States canceled his passport and blocked his plans to travel to Latin America. Eventually, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and he has been living in an undisclosed location in Russia ever since.