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HONG KONG — National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke out on Thursday from the Hong Kong safehouse where he is now residing, telling local English-language paper the South China Morning Post in a lengthy interview that the United States has been hacking computers in China and Hong Kong since 2009.
Snowden alleged that targets of U.S. hacking in Hong Kong include the Chinese University, public officials, businesses and students. He also said he believes there have been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations around the world, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and China.
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“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,” Snowden said.
Snowden, a former employee of U.S. government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, worked with the NSA and exposed last week to the Guardian the agency’s PRISM surveillance program, which has gained access to the private data of users of nine popular Internet services, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple.
Snowden said that he publicly exposed the program to lay bare “the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries.”
“Not only does it do so,” he said, “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.”
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The program is putting strains on the developing ties between the U.S. and China, according to China’s state organ the Xinhua News Agency. The article quotes an analyst at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies as saying that Washington should abandon “its practice of seeking ‘absolute safety’ for itself while potentially damaging the interests of other nations in the process.”
China’s Foreign Ministry states that China was one of the biggest victims of hacking attacks, but offers no information on the Snowden case.
Meanwhile, China’s state-own Global Times implored the U.S. to offer an explanation to the world’s internet users in an editorial, saying, “if Snowden’s claims are true, there are victims of privacy invasion by the NSA across the globe.”
News of Snowden flight to Hong Kong has created a major media scrum in the territory, with international and local journalists scrambling to obtain an interview with the former spy.
He told the SCMP that he did not choose to come to Hong Kong to hide from justice, but rather “to reveal criminality.”
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Pointing out that he has had plenty of opportunities to flee Hong Kong since his arrival from Hawaii on May 20, Snowden said he chose to stay in the Special Administrative Region under Chinese sovereignty to “fight the U.S. government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
Hong Kong lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan urged the local Department of Justice to grant Snowden political prisoner status and provide asylum, once the U.S. initiates extradition procedures, according to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper.
At least 14 human rights groups in Hong Kong are reportedly planning to take to the streets in support of Snowden on Saturday.
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