Edward Snowden Asks Vladimir Putin About Russian Intelligence

The Guardian via Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Intelligence leaker Edward Snowden surprised the audience of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual question and answer call-in show Thursday by submitting a question via video.

Snowden, who revealed American surveillance secrets by leaking sensitive documents from the National Security Agency, asked Putin if Russia also had a mass surveillance program.

Putin, a former Soviet KGB agent, began his response saying he would speak professionally from one spy to another. He denied that Russia has a mass surveillance program, saying it was against Russian law. He said Russian law enforcement only uses electronic surveillance in specific cases to catch criminals.

Andrei Soldotov, a Russian investigative journalist who has documented Russia’s electronic surveillance system, said there is much more to Russia’s surveillance program than Putin claimed.

“There is no parliamentary oversight of secret services,” he said in response via Twitter. “The FSB is not required to show a warrant to anyone,” he added, referring to Russia’s KGB successor, the Federal Security Services.

Soldotov’s investigations have dug deep into Russia’s sophisticated electronic surveillance program, called SORM. That system, he told ABC News earlier this year, rivals any set up by American intelligence services. The Russian security services are hardwired into the telecommunications infrastructure in Russia, allowing them to tap into raw data whenever they want.

Last year, Snowden fled the United States before leaking the classified information in Hong Kong. He eventually flew to Moscow, where he was trapped in the airport for weeks after the United States canceled his passport and blocked his plans to travel to Latin America.

Eventually, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and he has been living in an undisclosed location in Russia ever since.

During Thursday's call-in show, Putin also discussed the unrest in neighboring Ukraine. He said he hopes Russia will not have to send troops into eastern Ukraine, saying he hopes the situation can be resolved diplomatically. Putin denied that Russian troops are already in Ukraine.

And, for the first time, Putin confirmed that the soldiers with unmarked uniforms in Crimea were indeed Russian troops.

When asked if Russia plans to annex Alaska next, he said that Russia already has enough cold territory.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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