Russian intelligence services learned "nothing new" from ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's alleged trail of leaks, Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister and head of Russia's military-industrial commission, told journalists Monday.
But, just in case, Russia needs to beef up its cybersecurity and develop protected domestic sources of software and vital electronic components, Mr. Rogozin said. He warned that foreign-made equipment can come with hidden programs or viruses that can be activated to sabotage Russian machinery or siphon off information.
"Our IT experts did not hear anything new [from Snowden]. It was the bare truth we actually knew from other sources. It was the truth that is making us move and be quick about forming a component-based software system of our own," Rogozin told journalists after meeting with President Vladimir Putin at his Novo Ogaryovo residence.
Industrial espionage "is something very well developed. But we are using all the means available to counter it. Russia is not unprotected. But it could become vulnerable if we become entirely dependent on foreign equipment and foreign software purchases. This carries a serious risk. Therefore, the development of the national radio-electronic and software industries is a matter of national security," the independent Interfax agency quoted him as saying.
Rogozin, an articulate Russian nationalist whose political star has been rising in Mr. Putin's third term, is a strong advocate of rebuilding the industrial base that propelled the former Soviet Union to superpower status in the cold-war-era military and space races with the West.
Once a leading figure in the nationalist opposition to Putin, Rogozin was co-opted by the Kremlin and made Russia's ambassador to NATO in 2008, where he carved out a reputation as a sharp-tongued critic of Western policies, particularly toward the former Soviet Union.
As deputy prime minister in charge of military and space industry, Rogozin has faced the unenviable task of whipping Russian military industry into shape, after nearly two decades of collapse, in order to provide the stream of modern weaponry demanded by Putin's ambitious $700 billion rearmament program.
Andrei Soldatov, a security expert and editor of Agentura.ru, an online journal that studies the secret services, says Rogozin's claim that Russian authorities learned "nothing new" from the Snowden revelations is probably just bombast.
"Many people were surprised by some of the things Snowden revealed, and that includes Russians," he says.
But Rogozin's talk of digital independence for Russia is serious, he adds.
"It's the cherished dream of Russian electronic intelligence to have their own information security industry. Their arguments, that we cannot allow ourselves to be dependent on Western components to protect our communications, will resonate. It's all about getting more budgetary money for his sector, of course," Mr. Soldatov says.
Rogozin offered another observation on the Snowden affair, which probably deserves scrutiny. He claimed that in Russia's security system, no "ordinary engineer" could gain access to the nation's critical secrets, much less make away with them. Some US journalists have also wondered how Snowden, a mere contractor for a private firm, managed to get such high-level clearance?
"Our work is organized in a different way. We have the Commission for Technical and Export Control and the Federal Service for Export Control. These issues are constantly in sight," Rogozin said.
Soldatov says the reasons there is no Russian Snowden are probably quite different.
"First of all, engineers in Russia tend to be pro-government, very loyal to the state," he says.
But, more importantly, he argues, there is no independent media in Russia for a whistleblower to leak to.
A few years ago, Soldatov says, a group of disenchanted officers of the FSB security services set up a now-closed website, called Lubyanskayapravda.com, on which they published sensitive FSB documents, including details of operations.
"This was very, very interesting stuff. But no Russian media picked it up, or even tried to follow it. Within a couple of weeks the website was shut down, and all those officers were fired," Soldatov adds. "They never made a splash. So, the lesson is, without an independent media there are no whistleblowers."