Jun. 12, 2013 (TSR) – US whistle-blower Edward Snowden yesterday emerged from hiding in Hong Kong and revealed to the South China Morning Post that he will stay in the city to fight likely attempts by his government to have him extradited for leaking state secrets.
In an exclusive interview carried out from a secret location in the city, the former Central Intelligence Agency analyst also made explosive claims that the US government had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland for years.
At Snowden’s request we cannot divulge details about how the interview was conducted.
A week since revelations that the US has been secretly collecting phone and online data of its citizens, he said he will stay in the city “until I am asked to leave”, adding: “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.”
In a frank hour-long interview, the 29-year-old, who US authorities have confirmed is now the subject of a criminal case, said he was neither a hero nor a traitor and that:
- US National Security Agency’s controversial Prism programme extends to people and institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China;
- The US is exerting “bullying’’ diplomatic pressure on Hong Kong to extradite him;
- Hong Kong’s rule of law will protect him from the US;
- He is in constant fear for his own safety and that of his family.
Snowden has been in Hong Kong since May 20 when he fled his home in Hawaii to take refuge here, a move which has been questioned by many who believe the city cannot protect him.
“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,” he said.
Snowden said that according to unverified documents seen by the Post, the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he said.
One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.
Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.
“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,” he said.
“Last week the American government happily operated in the shadows with no respect for the consent of the governed, but no longer. Every level of society is demanding accountability and oversight.”
Snowden said he was releasing the information to demonstrate “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.
“Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.”
Since the shocking revelations a week ago, Snowden has been vilified as a defector but also hailed by supporters such as WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
“I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American,” he said, adding that he was proud to be an American. “I believe in freedom of expression. I acted in good faith but it is only right that the public form its own opinion.”
Snowden said he had not contacted his family and feared for their safety as well as his own.
“I will never feel safe.
“Things are very difficult for me in all terms, but speaking truth to power is never without risk,” he said. “It has been difficult, but I have been glad to see the global public speak out against these sorts of systemic violations of privacy.
“All I can do is rely on my training and hope that world governments will refuse to be bullied by the United States into persecuting people seeking political refuge.”
Asked if he had been offered asylum by the Russian government, he said: “My only comment is that I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power”.
The interview comes on the same day NSA chief General Keith Alexander appeared before Congress to defend his agency over the leaks. It was his first appearance since the explosive revelations were made last week. Alexander’s prepared remarks did not specifically address revelations about the Prism program.
Snowden’s revelations threaten to test new attempts to build US-Sino bridges after a weekend summit in California between the nations’ presidents, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping.
If true, Snowden’s allegations lend credence to China’s longstanding position that it is as much a victim of hacking as a perpetrator, after Obama pressed Xi to rein in cyber-espionage by the Chinese military.
Tens of thousands of Snowden’s supporters have signed a petition calling for his pardon in the United States while many have donated money to a fund to help him.
“I’m very grateful for the support of the public,” he said. “But I ask that they act in their interest – save their money for letters to the government that breaks the law and claims it noble.
“The reality is that I have acted at great personal risk to help the public of the world, regardless of whether that public is American, European, or Asian.”
The US consulate in Hong Kong could not be contacted yesterday on a public holiday.
Edward Snowden intends to stay in Hong Kong, fight extradition
Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who says he leaked National Security Agency secrets, told Hong Kong media Wednesday that he intended to remain in the self-ruled Chinese territory and fight extradition to the United States.
“I have had many opportunities to flee Hong Kong, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview. “My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate. I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”
The interview was the first public word from the 29-year-old Snowden since midday Monday, when he checked out of the Hong Kong hotel where he had been staying.
Snowden revealed himself Sunday as the primary source of unauthorized disclosures of highly classified U.S. telephone and Internet surveillance systems, calling America’s spying capabilities “horrifying.” He is now believed to be staying in a private home.
Other Hong Kong media reported as well that there was no indication from immigration authorities that Snowden had left Hong Kong, although in theory he is free to go as there are no outstanding charges against him. The U.S. Justice Department was expected to file criminal charges against Snowden.
Snowden also told the South China Morning Post that the Internet surveillance program code-named PRISM is used to spy on people in Hong Kong and elsewhere in China.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. government is now bullying the Hong Kong government to prevent me from continuing my work,” he said.
Snowden’s strategy in Hong Kong appears to be a high-risk geopolitical play in a most unique place, where the British common law overlaps with the dictate of the Chinese Communist Party. The former British colony is a special administrative zone, which unlike mainland China has an extradition treaty with the United States. But Beijing gets final say in cases where “surrender of a fugitive would harm defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy.”
Despite the rivalry between the United States and China, and the mutual recriminations over hacking and cyberespionage, few experts expect Beijing to go out of its way to shelter Snowden.
“The Chinese leader is pretty new and has just had an amicable round of chats with President Obama,” said Martin Lee, one of Hong Kong’s most respected democracy advocates and a senior lawyer.
Lee acknowledged that Snowden could keep the case tangled up in the courts for years. Snowden’s advocates are expected to argue that extradition to the United States could subject him to cruel and unusual punishment, citing the treatment of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of giving documents to WikiLeaks.
Snowden might be counting on Hong Kong’s activists — who zealously treasure their rights to hold commemorative marches over the Tiananmen Square crackdown and to protest against China — to rally to his defense. Their involvement could make it a political headache for Beijing to kick him out.
Beijing faces powerful opposition from Hong Kong activists who allege the Chinese Communist Party is encroaching on the freedoms it promised.
Eleven activist groups are planning a rally Saturday in support of Snowden, with a number of prominent pro-democracy figures expected to speak.
In a preview of what may come, rally organizers Wednesday suggested slogans for posters such as: “Defend Free Speech, Protect Snowden”; “No Extradition”; “Respect Hong Kong Law”; “Shame on NSA”; “Stop Internet Surveillance”; and “Betray Snowden equals Betray Freedom.”
Source: South China Morning Post