In an interview with the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, National Security Administration leaker Edward Snowden, 29, claimed that the NSA Prism program has collected data from numerous civilian sources in China.
According to the Post, Snowden alleged that the Prism program, which collects information on users of numerous technological services such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, targeted universities, businesses and public officials throughout mainland China and Hong Kong.
If Snowden is to be believed, the NSA has conducted more than 61,000 hacking operations throughout the world, and hundreds in China.
Apparently begun in 2009, the surveillance did not target Chinese military organizations, according to “unverified documents” in Snowden’s possession, as the Post characterized them.
The interview, carried out from an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, helps fill out the picture that Snowden’s allegations have painted in recent days of the NSA’s massive cyber-espionage programs. Since Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian first broke the story of the NSA’s collection of phone records from Verizon on June 6, a fierce debate has taken place within the U.S. and abroad over the conflict between security and privacy in technology.
Snowden also addressed those in America who ridiculed his choice of Hong Kong as a safe haven: “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.
Hiding or not, Snowden also expressed his “faith in HK’s rule of law,” and his intention to fight U.S. efforts to prosecute him in a court of law. Experts have commented that though Hong Kong has traditionally co-operated with the U.S. in matters of extradition, the process will likely be drawn out.
Several nations have offered Snowden asylum should he seek it, most notably Russia on Tuesday. Russia’s dismal record on freedom of the press and civil liberties makes this a curious offer, and Snowden would only comment that “I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power.”
If true, Snowden’s claims make for an awkwardly timed revelation given President Barack Obama’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the weekend in California. Over the course of a two day retreat, the two reportedly discussed economic relations, North Korea, and China’s chronic cyber-theft of U.S. industrial secrets.