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Putin says America’s NSA is ‘necessary’ but should abide by ground rules

Russian president and KGB veteran says while the NSA surveillance programme 'isn't a cause for job, it's not a cause for repentance either' because it is required to fight terrorism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on December 19, 2013. Sergei Chirikov / EPA
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on December 19, 2013. Sergei Chirikov / EPA

MOSCOW // Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said yesterday that National Security Agency surveillance is necessary to fight terrorism, but added that the government must “limit the appetite” of the agency with a clear set of ground rules.

Mr Putin’s surprise comments offered support for US President Barack Obama, which has faced massive criticism over the sweeping US electronic espionage programme.

He was speaking at his tightly choreographed annual news conference, a televised affair that goes on for many hours and attracts hundreds of journalists, some of whom were holding signs — or in one case an Olympic mascot teddy bear — in an effort to get called on for a question in front of a nationwide audience.

The Kremlin sees the event as key in burnishing Mr Putin’s father-of-the nation image.

Mr Putin, a 16-year KGB veteran and the former chief of Russia’s main espionage agency, said that while the NSA programme “isn’t a cause for joy, it’s not a cause for repentance either” because it is needed to fight terrorism.

He argued that it is necessary to monitor large numbers of people to expose terrorist contacts. But “on political level, it’s necessary to limit the appetite of special services with certain rules”, he said.

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

Asked about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whom Russia has granted asylum, Mr Putin insisted that Moscow is not controlling him.

He argued that any revelations published by Mr Snowden must have come from materials he provided before landing in Russia, and reaffirmed that Moscow made providing refuge to Mr Snowden conditional on his halting what he called anti-American activities.

Mr Putin said he has not met with Mr Snowden. He insisted that Russian security agencies have not worked with him and have not asked him any questions related to NSA activities against Russia.

Mr Putin dismissed a report claiming that Moscow stationed its state-of-the art Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave region that borders Nato and EU members Poland and Lithuania, but added that he continues to consider such a move a possible way of countering the US-led missile defence system in Europe.

Associated Press