Two sources close to Snowden told The Daily Beast that Snowden wanted the question to provoke a different response.
“It certainly didn’t go as he would’ve hoped,” one source said. “I don’t think there’s any shame in saying that he made an error in judgment.”
Another Snowden confidante said he wanted the exchange to appear like he was criticizing Russia.
“He basically viewed the question as his first foray into criticizing Russia. He was genuinely surprised that in reasonable corridors it was seen as the opposite,” said Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who serves as a close adviser to Snowden.
Snowden remarked that he has seen little discussion about Russia’s domestic policies about mass surveillance.
“So I’d like to ask you: 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?”
“We don’t like a mass system of such interception,” Putin replied, though Russia is regarded as having one of the world’s most pervasive systems for state surveillance, The Daily Beast noted.
Many regarded the question as staged, and a stab at the United States for its own domestic surveillance activities.
The next day, Snowden published an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper to explain his goal in questioning Putin.
“I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him,“ he wrote.
Snowden has been living in Russia since last August after its government granted him temporary asylum. Nearly a year ago, the former National Security Agency contractor began leaking highly classified U.S. government documents to journalists that exposed the scope of the agency’s data collection programs.