Putin Says Snowden No Traitor, But Leaking Information Was Wrong

  • Russian president says U.S. went too far with its surveillance
  • NSA contractor shouldn’t have leaked U.S. secrets, Putin says

Snowden speaks at the 'Virtual Conversation With Edward Snowden' in 2014.

Photographer: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden didn’t damage his country’s interests by making public surveillance secrets, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

“Snowden is not a traitor,” Putin said in an excerpt posted by Showtime of a series of interviews with filmmaker Oliver Stone that will be broadcast from June 12. “He did not betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country.”

While he agreed with Snowden that the National Security Agency went too far in its surveillance program, Putin said he shouldn’t have leaked the information. In 2013, Snowden fled to Moscow from Hong Kong after exposing clandestine NSA programs that collect phone and Internet data

Russia’s harboring of Snowden, who is wanted in America for revealing intelligence secrets, sparked a major confrontation with the U.S. The Foreign Ministry said in January that Russia had extended Snowden’s right to live in the country for “a couple more years.” The former NSA contractor’s asylum that ended his 39-day stay in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport had been due to expire this year.

Asked if Snowden did the right thing, Putin said: “If he didn’t like anything at his work, he should simply have resigned, but he went further. That’s his right.”

‘Didn’t Agree’

Putin, a former KGB colonel, agreed that Snowden’s predicament was similar to the dilemma he faced as the Soviet Union was collapsing more than a quarter century ago, when Communist party loyalists staged their putsch in August 1991.

“I had not given it thought, but I think yes,” Putin said. “I resigned because I didn’t agree with the actions undertaken by the government.”

Putin criticized the U.S. for eavesdropping on allies including Germany. “Trying to spy on your allies, if you really consider them allies and not vassals, is just indecent because it undermines trust,” he said. Russia intelligence-gathering is working “quite well” and in conformance with the law, he said.

Snowden, 33, last year hit out at his Russian hosts for passing a “Big Brother” surveillance law requiring communications companies to store phone calls and Internet activity for six months -- which will cost an estimated $30 billion to implement.

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