In an interview with the “South China Morning Post,” Edward Snowden said he had not come to Hong Kong to hide from justice but to reveal what he called “criminality” in connection with the massive spying operations carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA).
The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the 29-year-old Snowden, a former contractor with the NSA, but reports say U.S. authorities have not yet filed a formal extradition request to Hong Kong.
In Washington, the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, defended the surveillance operations, saying they have disrupted, or helped disrupt, “dozens” of terrorist attacks inside America and in foreign countries.
Alexander did not provide an exact number and mentioned only two specific cases in his remarks to a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on cybersecurity.
They included the case of Najibullah Zazi, an American of Afghan background who was arrested in 2009 over a plot to bomb New York City, and David Headley, a Pakistani-American arrested over his involvement in the planning of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
Citing documents provided by Snowden, Britain's “Guardian” newspaper and the “Washington Post” revealed last week the vast U.S. government effort to collect and monitor -- through companies such as Google, Facebook, and other communications providers -- the phone and Internet data of millions of people in America and around the world.
The revelations have renewed debate in the United States and elsewhere about privacy rights versus the obligation of governments to try to disrupt terrorist plots.
Some U.S. lawmakers have denounced Snowden as a traitor who should be imprisoned.
Snowden, who worked at an NSA facility as an employee of the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, checked out of a hotel in Hong Kong on June 10 and his exact whereabouts are not clear.
In his interview with the “South China Morning Post,” an English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong, Snowden described himself as “neither traitor nor hero,” adding: “I’m an American.”
He said he was prepared to stay in Hong Kong and fight the United States government in court, saying he has “faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
Hong Kong is a former British colony that retained a separate legal system when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. However, the communist-led Chinese government exercises ultimate control over foreign affairs questions, including extradition cases.
In his interview, Snowden said he had counted more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, some of which targeted "network backbones" that can provide access to hundreds of thousands of individual computers.
He was quoted as saying there were hundreds of U.S. targets in mainland China and Hong Kong.