Alleged NSA leaker Edward Snowden claimed today to have evidence that the U.S. government has been hacking into Chinese computer networks since at least 2009 – an effort he said is part of the tens of thousands of hacking operations American cyber spies have launched around the world, according to a Hong Kong newspaper.
The newspaper, the South China Morning Post, reported it had conducted a lengthy interview with the 29-year-old former NSA contractor, who is hiding out in Hong Kong after revealing himself to be the source of a series of headline-grabbing stories about the National Security Agency's secret, vast surveillance programs. After their unveiling, those programs were acknowledged and defended by top Obama administration officials.
The Post said Snowden provided documents, which the paper described as "unverified," that he said showed U.S. cyber operations targeting a Hong Kong university, public officials and students in the Chinese city. The paper said the documents also indicate hacking attacks targeting mainland Chinese targets, but did not reveal information about Chinese military systems.
Snowden, a civilian contractor who worked at an NSA facility in Hawaii before his flight to Hong Kong, said he believed that overall the NSA had launched more than 61,000 hacking operations globally, including attempts to spy on hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and in mainland China.
"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, according to the paper. "Last week the American government happily operated in the shadows with no respect for the consent of the governed, but no longer."
Snowden told the paper he was releasing the new information to show the "hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries."
As U.S. officials said the Justice Department is preparing to bring charges against Snowden for the NSA leaks, Snowden said he has no plans to leave Hong Kong even though that country has an extradition treaty with the U.S.
"People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions," he said. "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality… My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."
As the South China Morning Post published its reports on Snowden, America's top cyber officials appeared before a Congressional committee to discuss American offensive and defensive cyber operations, including those recently revealed by The Guardian and The Washington Post apparently based on information from Snowden.
Previously, top U.S. officials have blamed the Chinese government for being behind "persistent" -- and somewhat successful -- attempts to hack into American government and private networks. In return, Chinese officials recently said their government has "mountains of data" pointing to the U.S. hacking them.
Last week, President Obama signed a directive calling for government cyber tools to be "integrated with the full array of national security tools we have at our disposal," according to The Associated Press. That statement was made after British newspaper The Guardian revealed the directive -- allegedly one of many tips that came from Snowden before he stepped from the shadows.