Skip to main content

On Russian TV, Snowden asks Putin about Moscow surveillance

By Tom Watkins, CNN
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1152 GMT (1952 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country's surveillance isn't as broad as that in the U.S.
  • "We do not have the money or the means to do that," he tells the fugitive intelligence leaker
  • Putin says he and the former NSA contractor "can speak in a professional language"

(CNN) -- Months after accepting asylum in Russia, fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden on Thursday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about Moscow's own surveillance practices.

"Does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?" Snowden asked in English via a video link during Putin's annual question-and-answer program, which was broadcast on state television. "And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than their subjects, under surveillance?"

Putin responded that Russia has a special service that bugs telephone conversations and Internet communications to fight crimes, including terrorism, but only with court permission and only "for specific citizens."

Snowden's NSA leaks earn Pulitzer Prize

"So, the mass character is something we do not have and cannot have," Putin said in Russian.

"On such a mass scale ... 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," he said.

Putin, a former intelligence agent, noted that his questioner, a former National Security Agency contractor, shares that background. "So, we can speak in professional language," he said.

Snowden last year disclosed details of the vast U.S. surveillance network put in place after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including the government's record keeping on billions of phone calls.

Anticipating legal consequences, he fled to Moscow.

U.S. authorities have charged him with espionage and theft of government property.

Last month, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told National Public Radio that U.S. officials must plan for the possibility that Russia has access to American battle plans and other secrets.

"If I'm concerned about anything, I'm concerned about defense capabilities that he may have stolen from where he worked, and does that knowledge then get into the hands of our adversaries -- in this case, of course, Russia," Flynn said.

He cited intelligence capabilities, operational capabilities, technology and weapons systems as potential subjects that Snowden -- and now Russia -- may have.

"We have to assume the worst case and then begin to make some recommendations to our leadership about how do we mitigate some of the risks that may come from what may have been compromised," Flynn said.

Last October, Lon Snowden visited Moscow, where he told reporters that his 30-year-old son told him he had had no contact with Russian security or intelligence.

In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Snowden leaks caused serious damage to U.S. security.

"What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs," Clapper said then. "As a result, we've lost critical foreign intelligence collection sources, including some shared with us by valued partners."

The nation's adversaries were "going to school on U.S. intelligence sources' methods and trade craft, and the insights that they are gaining are making our job much, much harder," he told the committee.

READ: Stories about NSA surveillance, Snowden leaks win Pulitzers for two news groups

READ: Edward Snowden speaks at SXSW, calls for public oversight of U.S. spy programs

CNN's Jason Hanna and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1521 GMT (2321 HKT)
The first human trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine has produced promising results, U.S. scientists said.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teen in August abandoned home after address made public.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
HBO -- backing a documentary based on "Going Clear," a book about Scientology and Hollywood -- isn't taking any chances with legal side.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
Grandmaster Nguyen Van Chieu has devoted his adult life to spreading the word about Vietnames martial art, Vovinam.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
England cricketer Nick Compton shares insight into "drive and courage" it takes to face fears as top batsman.
November 27, 2014 -- Updated 0059 GMT (0859 HKT)
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0118 GMT (0918 HKT)
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 1043 GMT (1843 HKT)
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 28, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT