American fugitive spy Edward Snowden was granted permission to ask his adopted president, Vladimir Putin, a question on Russian television on Thursday.
Snowden noted, with a straight face, that he’d "seen little public discussion of Russia’s own involvement in the policies of massive surveillance" after his Pulitzer Prize-winning espionage revealed classified secrets about the U.S. surveillance apparatus. Here’s what he asked Putin:
Does Russia intercept, store, or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals? And do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance? Thank you.
Putin responded in the deft, trolling fashion with which he has always handled the Snowden situation.
"Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy," Putin said, according a translation by Kremlin propaganda network Russia Today. "I used to be working for an intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language."
Putin assured the asylum seeker that Russian surveillance is "strictly regulated by our law," and insisted that judicial approval was required "to stalk a particular person."
The Russian government doesn’t have a mass surveillance program, Putin said, because "according to our law, it cannot exist." He also noted that Russia lacks the financial and technological resources of the United States to implement such a program.
"Our special services are, thank God, strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law," Putin said.
Though many were critical of Snowden for taking part in the interview, his accomplice Glenn Greenwald offered the following smart take:
Snowden should storm the Kremlin, take their surveillance docs & demand to be sent to the US: just like his brave patriotic critics would do
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 17, 2014
The fact that Russian counterintelligence efforts seem to have improved dramatically since Snowden’s arrival did not come up in the segment.