NSA leaker Edward Snowden asks Putin how Russia spies on Russians

MOSCOW -- National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden asked Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday whether his nation's spy agencies sweep up data en-masse from Russian citizens, the way his former employer has done in the United States.

Russia granted Snowden asylum last year, and he still lives somewhere in the country. He was not in the Moscow television studio Thursday to ask the question in person, but recorded it earlier and sent it to the broadcaster online using "secured" technology, according to a Russian lawyer who has represented him.

Putin said that Russian special services do tap communications in their fight against terrorism, but don't do it on such a massive scale as the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a live nationwide phone-in broadcast
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a live nationwide phone-in broadcast, in Moscow, April 17, 2014.
"We can talk as professionals," Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran and the former chief of Russia's main espionage agency, told Snowden. "We have very strict rules about the use of special equipment and methods by the secret services listening into conversations, intercepting internet communications. It requires a court's permission for us to monitor individuals, so there is no mass monitoring and the law would not permit it."

The Russian leader claimed his nation's spy agencies "do not have the money to do so like the U.S. does."

It was not the first time Putin suggested he was envious of the U.S. spy machine's capabilities. He said in December 2013 that while the NSA program revealed by Snowden wasn't "a cause for joy, it's not a cause for repentance either" because it was necessary to fight terrorism.

He argued that it was necessary to monitor large numbers of people to expose terrorist contacts, but said "on a political level, it's necessary to limit the appetite of special services with certain rules."

Putin added that the efficiency of the effort -- and its damage to privacy -- was limited by the sheer inability to process such a huge amount of data.

In an off the cuff remark, Putin said he envied Mr. Obama for the U.S. spy program.

"How do I feel about Obama after Snowden's revelations? I envy him, because he can get away with it," said the Russian leader before going on to defend espionage in general as "one of the oldest professions in the world, just like some other well-known professions -- we won't mention them here."