US whistleblower Edward Snowden 'will fight extradition'

Edward Snowden (picture courtesy of the Guardian) Edward Snowden (picture courtesy of the Guardian) says he wants Hong Kong to decide his fate

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The ex-CIA employee who leaked secret US surveillance details has vowed in an interview to fight any attempt to extradite him from Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden told the South China Morning Post: "I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American."

It is the first interview he has given since disappearing from his hotel room in Hong Kong on Monday.

His leaks led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.

Mr Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong shortly before the highly sensitive leaks surfaced.

"I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality," Mr Snowden told the Post, which said the interview was carried out in a secret location in Hong Kong.

"My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."

US 'bullying'

Mr Snowden told the Post that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had led more than 61,000 hacking operations worldwide, including many in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Start Quote

I do not currently feel safe due to the pressure the US government is applying to Hong Kong”

End Quote Edward Snowden

He said targets in Hong Kong included the Chinese University, public officials and businesses.

"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," Mr Snowden was quoted as saying.

"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."

None of the hacked documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he added.

The information leaked by Mr Snowden has undoubtedly angered the US government, but so far he has not been charged by the authorities, nor is he the subject of an extradition request.

Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the US, although analysts say any attempts to bring Mr Snowden to America may take months and could be blocked by Beijing.

The Post quoted Mr Snowden as saying that he had several opportunities to leave Hong Kong, but that he "would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong's rule of law."

He also accused Washington of "bullying the Hong Kong government".

How surveillance came to light

  • 5 June: The Guardian reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon under a top secret court order
  • 6 June: The Guardian and The Washington Post report that the NSA and the FBI are tapping into US internet companies to track online communication in a programme known as Prism
  • 7 June: The Guardian reports President Obama has asked intelligence agencies to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks
  • 7 June: President Obama defends the programmes, saying they are closely overseen by Congress and the courts
  • 8 June: US director of national intelligence James Clapper calls the leaks "literally gut-wrenching"
  • 9 June: The Guardian names former CIA technical worker Edward Snowden as the source of the leaks

"I do not currently feel safe due to the pressure the US government is applying to Hong Kong, but I feel that Hong Kong itself has a strong civil tradition that whistleblowers should not fear," he said.

And when asked whether he had been offered asylum by Russia, he replied: "My only comment is that I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power".

Civil lawsuit

After Mr Snowden's leaks, which led to a series of articles in the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, US officials confirmed the existence of a secret programme to draw data from the internet, codenamed Prism.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence gave details of the programme last week.

According to the office's statement, Prism is simply an internal computer system, and not a data-mining programme.

But Washington is coming under increasing pressure from many different quarters to end the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, challenging the legality of the programme.

Separately, a coalition of more than 80 rights groups and internet companies have launched a website, StopWatching.Us, which has called on Congress to launch a full investigation.

And the EU's justice commissioner has written to the US attorney general, questioning him about Prism, and saying she was concerned America's efforts "could have grave adverse consequences for the fundamental rights of EU citizens".

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