Edward Snowden cleared up a lot when he appeared on Vladimir Putin's "town hall" video program. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1yH554emkY
His question for Putin was familiar to anyone who's followed Snowden's remarks in recent months: spying isn't bad, but "the mass surveillance of online communications and the bulk collection of private records " is evil. He trashes the US for programs that "unreasonably intrude on the private lives of ordinary citizen"' and asks, "Does Russia intercept, store or analyse in any way the communications of millions of individuals?"
I've prepared and answered a lot of questions at hearings, and a compound question like that is almost always a setup: It begs for a categorical "No." And that's what it got. It sure looks as though Snowden is playing the Kremlin's game here, serving up a pre-arranged softball on demand.
Equally interesting is the Russian government's implicit endorsement of the Snowden "mass surveillance" talking point. This television program is tightly scripted, and Snowden's question must have been approved at the highest levels of the Russian government to get past the screeners. So this is clearly a message that the Russian government wants to promote.
I've suspected for a while that Snowden's objection to mass surveillance point was a phony. It doesn't explain most of the stories Snowden has fathered or most of the documents that Snowden has compromised. Is it mass surveillance for NSA to monitor the communications of the Syrian military or to join with Norway in scrutinizing Russia's activities in the Arctic or to modify a USB cable so it can extract the secrets of a single computer -- to name just three programs that the Snowdenistas have disclosed?
Now we can see not just that the "mass surveillance" justification for Snowden's leaks is false but where the falsehood came from: it was almost certainly manufactured by the same Russian government that has now embraced it.
Why does Russia want this particular lie in circulation? Putin's answer tells us that too. After making the laughable claim that Russian surveillance is controlled by Russian law and Russian courts, Putin lets his mask slip just a bit: "there is no mass scale .... We do not have as much money and as many devices as the US to do that."
The Russians can't match NSA in money or technology (or in allies, he might have added). So Russia wants to drastically erode the American advantage in these things. And that, of course, is exactly the effect that Snowden's disclosures have had. If he persuades Americans to turn against NSA's foreign intelligence methods, or if he induces our allies to trim NSA's wings, or if he gets American technology companies to refuse to help their country, then Russia's lack of money, allies, and technology won't matter as much.
To sum up, for the last several months, while living in Russia, Snowden has been putting forward a justification for his acts (a) that he knows is not true, since it doesn't explain his actions, (b) that is approved at the highest levels by the Russian government and (c) that gravely harms the US and helps Russia in its confrontations with the US around the world.
I've said for a while that I thought the jury was out on whether Snowden is a traitor.
Now I think I hear it filing in.
Who says you can't learn anything watching Russia's propaganda programs?