Edward Snowden, the US man who revealed a secret scheme to monitor phone and internet data, has given his first interview since going to ground in Hong Kong two days ago. He vowed to resist any extradition attempt.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, the 29-year-old former CIA employee said he would fight any effort to bring him back to the United States.
"I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the US government in the courts, because I have faith in HK's rule of law," Snowden said in the article published Wednesday.
"People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality," he added.
The interview was reportedly conducted at an undisclosed location after Snowden went under the radar on Monday, checking out of the hotel he had been staying at since arriving in the country on May 20.
Snowden identified himself on Sunday as the source of leaks to the British newspaper the Guardian and the United State's Washington Post detailing a top secret National Security Agency (NSA) program known as PRISM. It was said to have systematically seized vast amounts of phone and web data from big companies such as Google and Facebook. The White House has asserted that the program was designed to reduce the risk of a terror attack on US soil.
The revelations have prompted the US Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and NSA contractor, however no formal extradition request has yet been filed.
'Americans will die'
During testimony to the US Senate on Wednesday, NSA chief General Keith Alexander told lawmakers that the PRISM program had thwarted dozens of terrorist attacks.
Alexander said his agency was committed to protecting Americans' civil liberties. The NSA chief said that, while he welcomed public debate on security and privacy, the leak of the PRISM program had already done damage to US national security.
"They will get through, and Americans will die," Alexander said, referring to alleged threats from terrorists.
"Great harm has already been done by opening this up," he said of the leaks. "The consequence, I believe is our security has been jeopardized."
'Neither traitor nor hero'
Snowden's supporters, however, have hailed him as a courageous whistleblower.
"I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," Snowden told the newspaper.
He was quoted as saying the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and in mainland China since 2009, with targets including public officials, businesses and students in the city.
Snowden said this exposed "the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries," he added.
If verified, his claims add credibility to China's long-standing assertion that it has been the victim of US hacking.
In total he said there had been more than 61,000 NSA computer hacking operations globally, targeting "network backbones" that yield access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers.
The NSA has released no comment on his latest claims.
ccp,slk/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)