Whistleblower Edward Snowden has claimed that the U.S. government has been hacking Hong Kong and Chinese networks for at least four years.
In his first interview since he revealed himself on Sunday, the 29-year-old whistleblower told the South China Morning Post that the NSA has hacked the country’s universities, businesses and politicians.
Edward Snowden claimed the agency had hundreds of targets – including the Chinese University of Hong Kong – from as far back as 2009, but that these were just a fraction of the 61,000 NSA hacking operations carried out globally.
He added that none of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems.
“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 explained.
The hour-long interview, which took part in a secret location on Wednesday, came after Snowden fled to Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii on May 20 after leaking sensitive documents about the NSA.
His actions have been both praised and condemned globally, with some hailing him a hero while others, including House Speaker John Boehner, calling him a traitor.
But in the exclusive interview, Edward Snowden said: “I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”
He said he will stay in Hong Kong to fight any extradition bid from the U.S, and he hit back against people who have called his choice to flee to Hong Kong a gamble.
“People who think I made a mistake in picking HK 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. I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”
It is believed the U.S. is pursuing a criminal investigation against Edward Snowden, and on Tuesday, sources said officials were preparing to bring charges against him. No extradition request has yet been filed.
In another clip of the interview Edward Snowden said he has heard from a reliable source that the government is “trying to bully the Hong Kong government into extraditing me”.
“I will never feel safe,” Edward Snowden said, adding that he has also not contacted his family because he fears their safety too.
“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.”
His interview comes two days after Edward Snowden checked out of a Hong Kong hotel where he was interviewed by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which first published the story.
Since then, he has been nowhere to be seen.
In the Guardian interview, Edward Snowden had said he wanted to avoid the media spotlight, noting he didn’t want ‘the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing’.
With little new information to report on Edward Snowden or his whereabouts, focus has instead fallen on his American girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, a dancer who posted partially nude photographs of herself online before she also apparently disappeared.
Reporter Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian newspaper, who interviewed Edward Snowden for exclusive stories about his revelations, wrote late Tuesday that ‘it is thought’ Snowden was now in a private home in Hong Kong, but offered no details.
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who interviewed Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, has given a series of interviews about the case, but refused to reveal any information about his location or his plans.
The US has been divided in praising or condemning Edward Snowden after he leaked information about a global eavesdropping operation, PRISM, put in place by the government.
“He’s a traitor,” Boehner told ABC on Tuesday.
“The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”
Also on Tuesday, Edward Snowden’s employers, Booz Allen Hamilton, announced that it has terminated his contract ‘for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy’.
It said that the claims he had leaked information were “shocking” – and revealed that he was earning $122,000 rather than the $200,000 he told The Guardian he was paid.
As for his future prospects – although Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., the document has some exceptions, including for crimes deemed political.
Any negotiations about his possible handover will involve Beijing, but some believe China is unlikely to want to jeopardize its relationship with the U.S. over someone of little political interest to them.
Edward Snowden also told The Guardian that he may seek asylum in Iceland, which has strong free-speech protections and a tradition of providing a haven for the outspoken and the outcast.
And even Russia has stepped up to say it would consider offering him political asylum if he sought it.
“We will take action based on what actually happens. If we receive such a request, it will be considered,” said the Russian president’s official spokesman Dmitry Peskov.