Marco Werman: Which brings us to our next story, the curse of Snowden. National Security Agency feels it, and Russia loves it. NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, is pretty popular in the country that's granted him asylum. In fact, some Russians may hear something like this when they get to work tomorrow.
"Hey, say hello to Ed, your new IT guy."
Seems Snowden has a new job in Russia, and rumor has it he may be taking a position with Russia's equivalent of Facebook. Reported Charles Maynes in Moscow tells us what he's heard.
Charles Maynes: The assumption is that he'll be working for Vkontakte, which is essentially a kind of copy of Facebook; the interface looks identical. And he'll be there, and he was offeredâ€¦ actually, when he first took asylum here in Russia, the owner and founder of Vkontakte offered Snowden a job publicly, where he said he'd be happy to have Snowden on his team, basically to help secure users' privacy data.
Werman: So this is offered to him by a private company, but do you have any doubt that it's really the Russian government that lined up the job for him?
Maynes: Well, I think obviously the Russian government helped line up the visa, which was the more pressing point for him at that point. He'd been in the Sheremetyevo airport for the last month, living in a sort of box. So I think certainly the Russians are taking care of him. We haven't seen much of him, you know, there's reported sightings from time to time, but they're not confirmed. He was a recipient of a kind of freedom prize, through other US whistle-blowers who came to Moscow to celebrate with him. But other than that, he's been basically invisible.
Werman: So he's got asylum, he's got this visa, he's got a job now. For the Russians, is this Snowden caseâ€¦ is he really a propaganda tool more than anything else?
Maynes: Well, I think there's some aspect of kind of gloating over the fact that Snowden, first of all, leaked all this information about the American surveillance system, the one called PRISM by the NSA. But on the other hand, it's a little bit disingenuous, because the Russians have their own version of this. It's called SORM. It's a sort of a massive interception surveillance system that's been in place... essentially it was dreamed up by the KGB in the 1980s, and it gives essentially the successor agency to the KGB, the FSB, access to phone traffic, and in subsequent versions and updates to this, to internet providers. So in a lot of ways it's very similar.
Werman: So let's shift gears here. I mean, the other person that figures into the shadowy world is Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny. He was brought up on embezzlement charges in July; he's free now. But those charges, I guess, will prevent him from running for president, which he apparently wanted to do. What strikes you about the Navalny and the Snowden cases, and what they say about Russia today?
Maynes: Well, one thing that strikes me is that if you go back to that Navalny trial over the summer, they were playing recordings of Navalny with his apparent co-conspirator, Peter Ofitserov, in his trial. So somebody was monitoring them, and one thing that was kind of interesting to notice is that no one blinked about this. It was kind of just an assumption. And I think that it's so obvious that this happens that... personally, I would be surprised to meet a Russian who was actually surprised about this. It's not entirely legal, if you look sort of formally at the constitution, but it's certainly an open secret.
Werman: How is Snowden kind of portrayed in Russia?
Maynes: Well, he's portrayed as a hero, kind of a freedom fighter. But he's also portrayed constantly as someone whoâ€™s under extreme threat from American security interests. So, part of this idea of, â€œwell, you can't see him, he's invisible,â€ is because of the idea that he's a target for assassination or something else by the Americans.
Werman: And practical stuff. I mean, just wondering with this new job. How will Snowden get to work without attracting the attention of US spies?
Maynes: [Laughs] That's a big question. I mean, there is that sort of wonderful thing called data commute. You know, he might be just working from home in his pajamas, but conceivably, also, he is going to be going to work.
Werman: Independent journalist Charles Maynes, based in Moscow. Thanks so much.
Maynes: Thank you.
Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.