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Homesick Snowden lays out new allegations against GCHQ

Edward Snowden has said British spies can hack into mobile phones using text messages. The whistleblower also said he has offered to serve prison time in the US if the country were to let him return from exile in Russia.

In an interview with the BBC that aired Monday, former National Security Agency contractor-cum-whistleblower Edward Snowden said British spies could secretly record audio and take photos of smartphone users. He said the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) used a series of interception tools called "Smurf Suite."

"They want to own your phone instead of you," Snowden told the "Panorama" program. He said texts used by the GCHQ to gain discreet access to mobile phones would not arrive with a ding, beep or chirp: "When it arrives at your phone it's hidden from you. It doesn't display. You paid for it, but whoever controls the software owns the phone."

Snowden said GCHQ employed various types of Smurfs, named after the blue Belgian cartoon characters, to gain access. "Nosey Smurf" would enable spies to switch on a smartphone's microphone even with the phone off, he claimed. "Dreamy Smurf" would allow the GCHQ to switch phones on and off remotely, Snowden said, and "Tracker Smurf" allowed spies to follow the phones' owners.

The BBC reported that the government had declined to comment in line with usual policy on intelligence matters. However, the British government has planned legislation that would give even more powers to intelligence agencies to monitor online activity. Snowden, who recently opened a Twitter account, has had a lot to say about the GCHQ, even when not all the revelations have been his own.

'I feel comfortable'

Charged with espionage and theft of government property after leaking documents about US spying on its citizens, world leaders and companies, Snowden has lived in exile in Russia since June 2013. The charges could land him in prison for up to 30 years.

Before leaving office earlier this year, former US Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department might consider a plea deal, but Snowden told the BBC that he and his lawyers had waited for US officials "to call us back."

Snowden told the BBC that he'd "volunteered to go to prison with the government many times," but had not received a formal plea offer. "So far they've said they won't torture me, which is a start, I think," he said. "But we haven't gotten much further than that."

Critics say his disclosures have harmed the ability of the United States and its allies to fight terrorism. Mark Giuliano, the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has called Snowden a traitor.

"The question is, if I was a traitor, who did I betray?" Snowden said. "I gave all of my information to American journalists and free society generally."

He added: "I have paid a price but I feel comfortable with the decisions I've made. If I'm gone tomorrow, I'm happy with what I had. I feel blessed."

Snowden and the whistleblower site WikiLeaks have revealed that the United States engaged in massive spying operations against German officials. In September, Snowden received a freedom of speech prize from a Norwegian literary foundation for his revelations.

mkg/cmk (AFP, AP)

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