If Edward Snowden had any credibility as a fugitive former National Security Agency contractor he lost it this week when he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin softball questions about whether the communist country conducts mass surveillance on its citizens as the United States does.
Putin in the broadcast interview naturally denied that such surveillance occur in Russia. Snowden also asked whether a mass surveillance program — even if legal — could be morally justified. No clear response followed.
Snowden in 2013 leaked documents showing the NSA has been secretly collecting massive amounts of data on communications among Americans. The Justice Department in 2013 filed a criminal complaint against Snowden, saying he violated the U.S. Espionage Act and had stolen government property.
Snowden has been living in exile in Russia. Snowden wrote in a commentary published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper Friday:
“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. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question — and Putin's evasive response — in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it....
“...Putin's response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader — a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists. In fact, Putin's response was remarkably similar to (President) Barack Obama's initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA's domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.”
Laying low might be Snowden’s best strategy because every time he surfaces, he just makes himself look like Putin’s stooge.