One of Edward Snowden’s legal advisers recently coined the term “Snowden-Putin truthers,” described by The Daily Beast as “people who are convinced that the Russian security services are behind the leaker’s every move.”
The FSB, Russia’s post-Soviet security service, has been protecting Snowden since he arrived in Moscow on June 23.
“When the FSB actually got him, they started to handle it their own way,” Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov told The New York Times in November. “This is the way the security services operate all the time.”
Here are some of the aspects of the spy saga that collectively convince “Snowden-Putin truthers” that the FSB is lurking behind — if not outright manipulating — the NSA-trained hacker:
- On June 11, two days after Snowden revealed himself to the world from a Hong Kong hotel, the office of Russian President and former KGB Lt. Col. Vladimir Putin offered to consider an asylum request from Snowden.
The next day, Snowden leaked NSA documents to the South China Morning Post. Andrei Soldatov, who co-wrote the book on the FSB, explained to BI that the Kremlin could take that as a sign that he was willing to work with them.
“I think it was very stupid [of] Snowden to break this story when he was in Hong Kong because he actually showed the [Russian] security services that he might be quite cooperative,” Soldatov told BI in January, adding that the decision was “very stupid and not very careful.”
- Snowden subsequently reached out to Russian officials in Hong Kong. He may have not spent his birthday in the Russian consulate, but Putin did acknowledge the contact in China. Soldatov noted that someone would have had to reach out to the Russians, and WikiLeaks was in the position to do so after paying for his lodgings and advising him after he went public.
- “You need to find a way to Russian officials. It’s not so easy. You cannot just knock on the door and say, ‘I am an NSA whistleblower and I want contact with the Russians,'” Soldatov told BI. “So I think that some contacts were provided by Assange. I strongly suspect that there should be some connection.”
Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23 and had no valid travel documents when he landed. The day prior, the U.S. had voided his passport. Snowden was carrying an Ecuadorian travel document, but it was unsigned and later completely rescinded.
Assange then told Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone that he actually advised Snowden against going to Latin America because “he would be physically safest in Russia.”
- When Snowden landed in Moscow, a local radio host “saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB agents, in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport,” according to Anna Nemtsova of Foreign Policy.
- Snowden did not reappear until July 12, when he officially asked Russia for asylum and retained a Moscow layer who is employed by the FSB.
- Snowden’s next appearance occurred on Aug. 1, when lawyer Anatoly Kucherena led Snowden and WikiLeaks adviser Sarah Harrison to a car that took him to an undisclosed location.
- On Oct. 31, Snowden met with German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Ströbele. German security experts subsequently told the Berlin daily Die Welt that the FSB “organised and monitored Ströbele’s visit to Moscow and effectively used it for its purposes.”
- On Nov. 8, Kucherena said that Snowden couldn’t go to Germany to testify on NSA spying because he “has no right to cross Russian borders,” dimming his hopes for asylum beyond Russia.
- The larger context is that Russia and China are actively looking to steal intelligence data, and NSA systems administrators are particularly vulnerable. Further, the NSA alleges that Snowden took military information, including at least 36,000 pages detailing “the whole database of requirements,” described to Vanity Fair as orders from various government agencies to the NSA requiring specific foreign-surveillance information.
Soldatov, who explained why Snowden may never leave Moscow after being under FSB protection for so long, succinctly explained how Russia’s intelligence services would want to deal with a rogue NSA contractor who duped the NSA and took more than 100,000 classified files:
“The first step is to get Snowden to Moscow. The next step is to have him locked for 40 days [to decide what to do] … The next step is to provide him asylum,” Soldatov said. “Then to say, ‘Someone is looking for you, you are in danger.’ … And then you have the guy in a controlled environment, and then you can work with him.”
The notion of a Snowden-Putin truther arose earlier this week, after Snowden asked Putin about mass surveillance in Russia during a four-hour interview shown on Russian propaganda network RT. Soldatov noted that the placement of the recording after Putin mentioned Snowden’s revelations is one cue that the fugitive American played into a Kremlin PR stunt.
“My understanding is that all was prearranged, Putin and his advisers wanted some sort of question from Snowden, but didn’t give a damn over how precisely question would have been formulated, and Snowden was desperate to use this opportunity to respond his critics why he was so silent about Russian surveillance,” Soldatov told Business Insider in an email this week. “I think both of them thought they won, and it’s still not very clear who benefited most.”
Snowden’s closest supporters said the RT appearance was a mistake and that Snowden crafted the questions with several key advisers offline. Snowden explained his rationale in an op-ed. Meanwhile, those who think that the FSB might be manipulating Snowden took the incident as an example of the 30-year-old’s naivety.
“Remember, Snowden is not a trained intelligence agent,” Soldatov said. “He does not have the training to deal with this kind of situation. To me it seems like, every time, he found himself in some new difficult circumstances and he was forced to make some decision. And long term it’s a very successful thing [for Russia].”
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ben Wizner, who coined the term Snowden-Putin truthers, told Business Insider “no comment” when asked if he was one of the key advisers offline when Snowden prepared to go on RT.
Wizner has said that he speaks with Snowden nearly every day over encrypted chat.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.