MANILA, Philippines – The United States has been infiltrating computer systems in China and Hong Kong for years as part of its widespread surveillance programs, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to a Hong Kong newspaper.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SCMP) published Thursday, June 13, Snowden claimed the Prism program of the US National Securiy Agency (NSA) “extends to people and institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China.”
Snowden showed the SCMP documents that showed the US agency has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009.
Among the targets of the hacking was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “public officials, businesses, and students.” The paper, however, said it cannot verify the authenticity of the documents.
Snowden, who was interviewed by the paper Wednesday, June 12, in an undisclosed location, also said these hacking targets are part of around 61,000 operations globally.
“We hack network backbones – like huge Internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” the SCMP quoted the whistleblower, who has been hiding in the city since May 20.
He said this exposed “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries.”
‘I will stay and fight US govt’
Snowden vowed to stay in Hong Kong and said he will fight attempts of the US government to have him brought back home to face charges.
“I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the US government in the courts, because I have faith in HK’s rule of law,” he said.
The US government was “trying to bully” Hong Kong authorities into expelling him before he can reveal details of alleged NSA snooping of communications inside the financial and trading hub, Snowden said.
“People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice, I am here to reveal criminality,” the paper quoted him as saying.
“I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American,” Snowden said in the exclusive interview, released two days after he checked out of a city hotel.
He said “every level of society is demanding accountability and oversight.”
The former CIA analyst also said that he “will never feel safe,” and that he has not yet contacted his family and friends back in the States for fear of their safety.
He told the paper: “Things are very difficult for me in all terms, but speaking truth to power is never without risk… It has been difficult, but I have been glad to see the global public speak out against these sorts of systemic violations of privacy.”
The US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into Snowden, but so far the United States has not filed a formal extradition request to Hong Kong, a former British colony that retained its separate legal system when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Ultimately, Beijing retains control over defense and foreign affairs— and can veto extradition rulings made by Hong Kong courts. The Hong Kong and Chinese governments have yet to make any comment about Snowden.
Getting support in HK
Hong Kong press reports said that Snowden was looking for representation from prominent lawyers in the city well-versed in human rights and asylum cases.
He is winning support from the city’s feisty pro-democracy movement, with a demonstration in the works for Saturday. Organizers said the protesters, set to include Hong Kong lawmakers, would march first to the US consulate and then government headquarters.
“We should protect him. We are calling on the HK government to defend freedom of speech,” Tom Grundy, a spokesman for the organizers, told AFP.
“We don’t know what law he may or may not have broken but if Beijing has a final say, they don’t have to extradite him if he is a political dissident,” he said.
Snowden has reportedly said that Iceland could be one destination, lauding its stance on Internet freedom. Russia could be another option, after the Kremlin said it would consider any asylum request.
He declined to say if Russia had already offered asylum but said he was “glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is himself holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking asylum, said that Snowden would be “well advised” to consider any offer from Russia or a South American country. – KD Suarez, with reports from the Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
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