The U.S. government had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and China for years, says NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The former CIA employee stirred up a hornet's nest recently when he leaked details about PRISM, a National Security Agency program that collects certain user information from Internet companies and phone service providers in an effort to track down terrorists.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden said that PRISM actually extends to people and institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China. The NSA itself has been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and China since 2009, he added, citing documents that had not been verified by the Post.
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The documents don't reveal any details about Chinese military systems, Snowden told the newspaper. However, they do show hacking by the U.S. against targets in China's Special Administrative Regions, which include Hong Kong and Macau. Those targets include public officials, businesses, and students of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Snowden also said he believes the NSA has launched more than 61,000 hacking operations around the world, with hundreds focused on Hong Kong and 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 told the Post. "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, who worked for the CIA as a technical assistant and for the NSA as a contract employee, has reportedly been in Hong Kong since May 20. He told the Post that the U.S. is applying "bullying" pressure to try to extradite him. But he doesn't see his move to Hong Kong as a way to elude authorities.
"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."