Edward Snowden has defended his decision to appear on live Russian television, insisting his question to Vladimir Putin on mass surveillance was designed to hold the Russian president accountable and not, as critics have suggested, an act of compliant propaganda.
Writing for British newspaper The Guardian, the whistle-blower behind the National Security Agency leaks suggests he carefully framed the question to Putin, which he asked via video link in an annual televised call-in with the president on Thursday. Putin, Snowden writes, "denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter". Snowden asked Putin: "Does Russia intercept, store or analyse, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?"
Putin replied: "Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law … We don't have a mass system of such interception and - according with our law - it cannot exist."
The wording was deliberately modelled, Snowden says, on the query of US senator Ron Wyden to the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, in March last year, almost three months before the NSA leaks began.
Clapper inaccurately denied that the US government collected data on millions on Americans.
Snowden's decision to take part in Putin's annual live session prompted an outpouring of criticism against the former NSA contractor, who is in exile in Russia.
Stewart Baker, the NSA's former general counsel, attacked Snowden in The Washington Post, writing: "It sure looks as though Snowden is playing the Kremlin's game here, serving up a pre-arranged softball on demand."
Even some Snowden supporters voiced unease. Jillian York, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has previously supported Snowden and the NSA revelations, tweeted: "Snowden's question WAS softball. If he knows as much as he claims, he would've known that the wording gave Putin an easy out."