Edward Snowden has written a response to the criticism over his question on mass surveillance put to Russian President Vladimir Putin on state television, saying he wanted to start a debate, not assist the Kremlin.
Edward Snowden wrote a commentary for the Guardian newspaper on Friday, saying his question to Vladimir Putin "was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US senate intelligence committee hearings between Senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper." It was this Senate discussion, Snowden said, that helped him to decide to go public with his information on espionage activities conducted by the NSA and other agencies.
Snowden wrote that he appeared during the Russian president's televised address in order to get Putin's answer on the record, also writing that there were "serious inconsistencies in [Putin's] denial."
In Russia on a temporary asylum deal, the former contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA) asked first whether Russia stored people's communications en masse, and secondly whether monitoring "societies, not subjects" could be morally justified. Putin replied that for secret services to "stalk someone," a court order was required, also claiming that Russian authorities were not as technically or financially well-equipped as their US counterparts.
"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 said. The former intelligence agent pointed to moderate approval from Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov.
Critical responses in US, Germany
Snowden's appearance, on the same day that world powers met in Geneva for crisis talks on developments in Ukraine, drew considerable criticism abroad. It also followed the decision to award the Guardian US and the Washington Post the prestigious US-only Pulitzer Prize.
In the US, the conservative Fox News network called Snowden a "Russian TV Star" in its editorial headline, while CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, said the appearance discredited Snowden.
Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper published a commentary from Julian Reichelt titled "Edward Snowden in the Putin-trap," at one point asking "what more do we need to recognize that Edward Snowden is now under the complete control of the Kremlin." Reichelt linked to his commentary on Twitter with the following teaser: "How Ed Snowden became Putin's poodle. At intelligence agencies, you call people like this 'useful idiots'."
On Thursday, Reichelt had called for a direct response from veteran Green politician Hans-Christian Ströbele, a vocal advocate of calling Snowden as a witness in Germany's ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the actions of intelligence agencies like the NSA.
Parliamentary inquiry question still open
Ströbele did not directly address Snowden's appearance on Russian television, but on Thursday again appealed for the German government to call on him as a witness in the NSA inquiry.
"It's unbelievably embarrassing, if the German government, the justice senator and others continually doubt that Snowden could be safe here. Poor Germany," Ströbele said.
This followed an appeal from Sigmar Gabriel for Snowden to testify in the month-old inquiry - but from Moscow. Berlin's special parliamentary representative for data protection, Alexander Dix, told the German epd news agency on Friday that Snowden's testimony was indispensable. Dix described Snowden as "the central figure in many questions that the parliamentary inquiry is charged with answering."
Any possible decision on calling Snowden as a witness was delayed earlier this month, until after Angela Merkel's trip to the US early in May. The inquiry has already lost one chairman, Clemens Binninger, who said he was quitting because of the differences of opinion concerning Snowden among the eight-person panel.
Public broadcaster SWR on Thursday evening released an early excerpt of an interview with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, to be aired over the weekend, saying that bringing Snowden into Germany would be problematic.
"There is a [German] legal cooperation agreement with the US," de Maiziere told SWR. "The Americans say that Mr. Snowden has made himself liable to prosecution. That would be grounds for extradition."
De Maiziere, a Christian Democrat from former East Germany with close ties to Angela Merkel, said the government was investigating granting Snowden safe passage to testify - but added that it would be also possible for him to address the parliamentary inquiry from outside Germany.
msh/mkg (AFP, dpa, epd)