April 17, 2014

"Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy, I used to be working for an intelligence service, we are going to talk one professional language."

Said Putin to Edward Snowden... on "live TV."
"We don’t have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law, it cannot exist..."
Said Putin, making a statement about law that to me — a person who has studied and thought about law for 30+ years — makes no sense. How does law cause something not to exist? Why is there murder? It's against the law.

To be fair, Putin spoke Russian, and we're reading a translation, and the next statement reveals that Putin knows he can do things that violate the law:
"But we do not have a mass scale uncontrollable efforts like that, I hope we won’t do that and we don’t have as much money as they have in the States, and we don’t have these technical devices that they have in the States."
Does he really "hope" his government "won't" do that or is he just acknowledging that it can't do that (but he would if he could)? It seems like he's saying his ability to resist U.S.-style "mass scale uncontrollable efforts" is not currently being tested since he doesn't have the money or the technology, but if he did, he'd like to think that he would not do it... or — really — he'd like us to think that he wouldn't do it. But trust him, because he doesn't even have the capacity to do it, so the will to do it doesn't matter.
Putin said that Russian special forces did use surveillance to thwart terrorists and criminals, but that it was regulated. “Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law,” he concluded.
So there he goes, back to the ludicrously unbelievable demand that we trust law (and society)... and Russian law at that.

If we can't trust American law and society, why would we trust Russian law and society? Is there some value in referring to the belief in law? It challenges us Americans to make our law work and mean something so a poseur like Putin can't get in cheap shots like this. And it does set Putin up as someone who wants prestige through adhering to law, and that might be leveraged somehow to some small bit of good. But let's be realistic about all of this.

And what do with think of Snowden's performance as a pawn in this game?

34 comments:

Illuninati said...

My take is different. Putin 's speech wasn't a "ludicrously unbelievable demand that we trust law (and society)... and Russian law at that." He is much smarter than that. He is needling Obama and the EU whom according to him make great pretense of acting according to laws while behaving like common criminals. The Russians are undoubtedly amazed as they watch the USA and Europe spiral down the same lefty hell hole they are trying to crawl out of - missing millions of their fellow citizens who were lawfully murdered.

grackle said...

I'm somewhat conflicted. Snowden has probably caused immense harm. He revealed the extent to which the government is spying on US citizens – ALL citizens, all the time. This needs to stop but we probably would never have even known about it without Snowden.

But in doing so he also put intel info, method and technique into the hands of our enemies.

He's the usual spy/pawn/eventual victim of the Russians. It may be dawning on him by now that he is in a very vulnerable situation. Playing with fire, etc. He's an amateur – Putin is the pro. He deserves everything he will get when his usefulness is over.

PB Reader said...

Cell phones, land lines, email? They've got 'em, and they work the exact same way ours do.

Kevin said...



Personally, I totally believe a former KGB agent when he says "we have laws, and our security services would never break the law..."

*CHOKE* *GASP*

Sorry, had a fit of uncontrollable laughter there...

John Lynch said...

If Snowden's flight to Russia had happened in 1982 it would have been pretty clear what he was.

He defected to Russia. He's exposed far more than just illegal domestic surveillance. Much of what's been leaked is foreign intelligence gathering, which is exactly what the NSA is supposed to be doing. The leaks have destroyed much of our advantage in electronic spying and this benefits Russia and China enormously. What hasn't been compromised has been discredited.

Snowden is effectively a Russian agent, and probably was all along. I'm sure he had ideological reasons for working for Russia, but so did Kim Philby.

He's not a whistleblower, because whistleblowers don't defect to Russia. He's a spy. He revealed many things that the NSA should not be doing, but his purpose doesn't seem to have been patriotic. Patriots don't don't defect to Russia.

Now that Russia has reverted to type it's a bit easier to see what actually happened.

Ann Althouse said...

"He's not a whistleblower, because whistleblowers don't defect to Russia. He's a spy."

Note that Putin called him a spy.

Robert Cook said...

"If we can't trust American law and society, why would we trust Russian law and society?"

We wouldn't...and shouldn't.

"Is there some value in referring to the belief in law?"

It's rhetoric.

"It challenges us Americans to make our law work and mean something so a poseur like Putin can't get in cheap shots like this."

Yes, but we have no say in how our government operates. Our "participation" (by voting--all other activism is harshly discouraged) is just for show...the policies serving the powerful and wealthy continue.

How is Putin any more a poseur than Obama or any of our other bloviating assholes in the power elite? Or, how are they any less poseurs than Putin? When I read Putin's remarks I cannot help but think of James "I'm a Big Fat Perjurer" Clapper in his thoroughly dishonest testimony before Congress.

Robert Cook said...

""He's not a whistleblower, because whistleblowers don't defect to Russia. He's a spy."

He didn't defect to Russia. You shouldn't make comments before you know what the facts are. He fled the US and ended up in Russia. He hoped to move on from there but his passport was canceled by the US, and our authorities are waiting to snatch him as soon as he makes any moves. He has been cornered in Russia, unable to leave. This is not defection.

B said...

Communism banned inequality, therefore it did not exist in the USSR. QED

Hagar said...

Partly he is needling the U.S. Gov't, maybe especially the Obama administration, partly the internet, cell phones, etc. are American invention and the fundamental infrastructure is in the U.S. or dominated by U.S. companies in U.S. friendly countries, and partly, yes, he plainly does not have the financial resources to waste on projects of doubtful usefulness, and he has to set priorities.

jr565 said...

Snowden is a useful idiot.

jr565 said...

Forgot to add useful idiot and saboteur. I hope he never comes back because if he did, I would have no problem keeping him in jail forever.

John Lynch said...

Robert Cook-

How do you know that Snowden didn't defect? How do you know his motives? I'm going off of what I see him doing.

He's in Russia. He got there via the Russian consulate in Hong Kong. He didn't have to go to Hong Kong or Russia. Switzerland still doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States, for instance. There were many alternatives that didn't involve going to Moscow.

I do not believe he simply ended up in the country with the second-most active intelligence service on the planet. He's also appearing on TV with Vladamir Putin as a stooge. Why is he doing that? Is he being forced to? Then what are we to make of his leaks and their purpose?

Did he make a mistake in deciding to go to Russia? Was he that deluded about what the Russian government is about? What are we to make of someone whose judgement is that poor?

I'm seriously pissed about the domestic surveillance. But I'm not blind to what's actually happening. Snowden is working for the Russians now, for whatever reason, and he chose to put himself in their clutches. That makes me wonder if he was working for them all along.

He defected. Now he's stuck with it.

Smilin' Jack said...

If we can't trust American law and society, why would we trust Russian law and society?

Because, as Putin said, they lack America's resources for villainy. As St. Augustine put it, "the virtue of children resides not in their wills but in the weakness of their limbs."

persiflage mahal said...

"He's not a whistleblower, because whistleblowers don't defect to Russia. He's a spy"

Blowing that particular whistle would have landed him in a Federal prison. To speak the truth and avoid prison he had to run. I'm guessing Putin's spy comment is just a way of boxing Snowden in.

If you give a shit about liberty Snowden's a hero. I'm grateful for his sacrifice.

RecChief said...

Putin's trolling Obama.

Actually trolling isn't correct, because he is prodding at different areas to see what the reaction is. Standard probing efforts to determine an enemy's weaknesses.

John Lynch said...

It's not heroic to break the law and evade the consequences. There are plenty of American heroes who went to prison. That's one of the reasons they are heroes.

I don't mind finding out about the surveillance state. I wish we'd look more closely about how that revelation happened and why. It seems to me that this whole Snowden defection may have been a Russian intelligence operation.

Why must Snowden's motives be pure? Why do we have to ignore all the things he's done that don't fit that narrative? It's possible to believe that he's a tool and that the NSA is spying on us illegally. Both can be true.

Brian said...

It is probably true that Russia's security services lack the budget to do anything like what the NSA does.

I mean: I'm certain they have a signals shop, and a cryptography shop, etc. So I suppose that you could say that in some sense they do "what NSA does", albeit at a vastly smaller scale. But where these NSA programs become scandals is precisely a question of scale, no?

Robert Cook said...

"But where these NSA programs become scandals is precisely a question of scale, no?"

No.

The scandal is in their doing it at all.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Whatever one may think of Putin, he is carefully and methodically showing Obama to be a fool.

John Lynch said...

Final comment-

Snowden probably could have beat the charges if he'd confined himself to revealing the extant to which the NSA illegally and unconstitutionally spies on Americans.

He's given away far more than that. He betrayed secrets of how the NSA spies on foreign countries, which by statute is exactly what they are supposed to be doing. That's simply espionage. It serves the interest of our enemies, and there's no way to come back from that.

If he was bothered by spying on other countries why did he work for the NSA? I can understand being justifiably angry about misusing the authority of the NSA to spy on Americans, but why betray secrets about how we spy on foreign countries?

Be skeptical of Snowden. Look at what exactly he's done. Don't focus on what you like.

RecChief said...

out of curiousity, where is Snowden's girlfriend/fiancee'? is she now in KGB uniform? Another Anna Chapman?

Anonymous said...

No way I think this appearance was his free choice nor that he would have chosen Russia if another, more viable, option had been available. Don't agree with @grackle that "he'll deserve everything he will get when his usefulness is over", but I do agree he is the amateur and Putin the pro.

This has been my fear for him since the beginning and one of the reasons I think what he did was so noble - the chances were so very high he had thrown his life down the toilet. It was something only someone young enough and unencumbered (no kids) enough could have done.

persiflage mahal said...

"It's not heroic to break the law and evade the consequences. There are plenty of American heroes who went to prison. That's one of the reasons they are heroes."

In a free country why would you have to risk jail for speaking the truth. I want freedom, not martyrs.


"Snowden probably could have beat the charges if he'd confined himself to revealing the extant to which the NSA illegally and unconstitutionally spies on Americans."

Bollocks. He never would have been given a fair chance.

Jim Gust said...

The notion that Russians are not under massive, methodical surveillance from their government is laughable. Ever seen "The Lives of Others"? That was not a work of complete fiction. From personal experience, I know surveillance was widespread in the USSR as well. No way all those internal spies were fired.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend from a formerly Communist country. It ceased being communist when he was 19.

He said everyone was watched/spied on even in high school simply because anyone outside the norm was considered a threat to the whole. He compared it to advertising in the US in the sense that it is so ubiquitous you only notice the extent of its influence when you move somewhere else.

Russia isn't the USSR anymore, of course, but you don't lose that mentality overnight.

Anonymous said...

"Note that Putin called him a spy."

This doesn't bode well for Snowden.

Putin means it in the exact opposite way. He isn't saying, "You're our spy." he is saying, "You're a US spy."

What do you suppose Russia does do US Spies it captures?

grackle said...

Whatever one may think of Putin, he is carefully and methodically showing Obama to be a fool.

Bingo!

Be skeptical of Snowden. Look at what exactly he's done. Don't focus on what you like.

Good advice

I think what he did was so noble.

OMG

I'm grateful for his sacrifice.

I'm conflicted, but not THAT conflicted. He has probably caused immense harm. That his perfidy had one accidental outcome that may have been positive(informing all of us that we are spied on by our own government) does NOT absolve him. The fact that the KGB eats idiots like him for breakfast is a small consolation. I hope he rots in Russia.

Kieth Nissen said...

I don't know anyone else on the web that dissects oral statements as thoroughly as Prof. Althouse and it's impressive and useful. In this case the oral statements of Putin contain tells and evasions that are not easily perceivable (at least not by me). Thank you.

Unknown said...

I'm more inclined to call Snowden a whistleblower than a spy.

1). He wasn't working for a foreign power when he stole secrets.

2). He went public with his allegations before he fled.

3). He went to China/Russia likely because they're the only countries (apart from NK and failed states) that wouldn't immediately turn him over to US authorities.

A guy who reveals secrets to inform the public is a whistleblower, not a spy.

That being said, it's inexcusable that he's going on stage with Putin. He wanted to be his own man, but he's just getting used by someone else.

Unknown said...

Also, Putin's statements are pretty amateurish attempts at lying. "Oh, no, we're not capable of doing that... we're far too primitive and dumb... and poor! Want to play a game of poker? I've never played it because gambling is illegal in Russia!"

Robert Cook said...

"That his perfidy (sic) had one accidental outcome that may have been positive(informing all of us that we are spied on by our own government) does NOT absolve him."

His act of heroism, intentional in its outcome and not at all accidental, absolutely does absolve Snowden for his crime.

persiflage mahal said...

The crime is the government's, not Snowden's. I agree with Cookie about something. It's going to start raining frogs any moment.

Basta! said...

I became curious enough as to what Putin actually said to find the Russian broadcast. It lasted for 4 hours and is split into 4 segments. Putin's response to Snowden comes in part 2, starting at around 17:58. Here.

First, he doesn't use the word "spy", but calls Snowden a "former agent" (бывший агент). At 18:47 Putin says such mass surveillance by law быть не может --- literally, "it cannot be", but what that means in Russian is "it cannot happen".

Putin admits that their "special services", make use of various types of electronic surveillance in relation to criminals, including terrorists, adding of course we do it too. But surveillance on such a mass scale, such an uncontrolled scale "we do not allow and we hope --- I very much hope --- that we will never allow it." (this around 19:24)

So, a) Putin's not making an ontological statement, that the law somehow magically precludes mass surveillance from existing, only that by Russian law it's not supposed to happen on such an inclusive scale; and b) he's claiming that it's not allowed now and that he, personally (he paused to emphasize his personal opinion), hopes "we will never allow" (not do) such a thing. The implication I take away from the way he said this is that it shouldn't be allowed because it's not ethical (yeah, I know, laugh).

The thread is long dead, but since you've closely parsed (a translation of) what he said, and since comments are now moderated, perhaps you'll see this and find it of interest.