Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the National Security Agency's, or NSA, surveillance programs, publicized last week by former CIA-employee and NSA-contractor Edward Snowden, saying government surveillance “is becoming a global phenomenon” and is “generally practicable” in a “civilized society.”
“[Snowden] told us nothing we didn’t know before. I think everybody has long been aware that signals intelligence is about surveillance of individuals and organizations,” Putin said, during an interview on Wednesday with state-supported Russian news network RT.
Putin said “the question is how well those security agencies are controlled by the public,” adding: “As long as it is exercised within the boundaries of the law that regulates intelligence activities, it’s alright.”
However, he disagreed with U.S. President Barack Obama’s stance that one “cannot have hundred-percent security while maintaining hundred-percent privacy.”
“Yes you can. I’d like to reiterate: you do have to obtain a warrant for specific policing activities domestically, so why shouldn’t this requirement be valid for intelligence agencies as well?” Putin asked.
During the interview, which addressed a range of issues, Putin also defended the U.S. drone program, saying the U.S. “does not target civilians on purpose,” referring to civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other nations, where the U.S. employs unmanned aerial vehicles for strikes on militants.
He added that drone operators “are people, too, and I think they understand all those things. But you still need to combat terrorism.”
Putin turned down an opportunity to criticize the U.S. government’s heavy-handed tactics against activists who participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011. However, he accused Washington of double standards over its criticism against the Russian government's crackdown on anti-Putin protesters.
Putin said he would not comment on whether the actions of New York City police on Occupy Wall Street protesters were appropriate or inappropriate.
“My point is that every opposition movement is good and useful if they act within law,” Putin said. “If there are people who act outside the law, then the state must use legal means to impose law in the interests of majority. That’s the way it’s done in the US, and that’s the way it’s done in Russia.”
“Truth be told, we are grilled for that, but when the same thing happens in the US, it is considered to be normal. Never mind, these are double standards and we have got accustomed and pay little attention to it,” Putin said.