China Watch Blog has learnt that the former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about US surveillance claims that China’s mainland and Hong Kong have long been surveillance targets of the US spy programs.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post newspaper, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden claims the US has long been attacking a Hong Kong university that routes all Internet traffic in and out of the southern Chinese city.
Snowden said the National Security Agency’s 61,000 hacking targets around the world include hundreds in Hong Kong and China’s mainland, the paper reported. It said Snowden had presented documents to support those claims, but it did not describe the documents and said it could not verify them.
Snowden’s comments were his first since the 29-year-old American revealed himself as the source of a major leak of top-secret information on US surveillance programs. He flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii before revealing himself, and the SCMP said he was staying out of sight amid speculation the US may seek his extradition.
Snowden, who worked for the CIA and later as a contractor for the NSA, has revealed details about US spy programs that sweep up millions of Americans’ phone records, e-mails and Internet data in the hunt for terrorists. American law enforcement officials are building a case against him but have yet to bring charges.
The newspaper cited Snowden as saying the NSA had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and China’s mainland since 2009, citing documents he showed the paper. It didn’t provide further details about the documents.
He said that among the targets was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which hosts the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, the main hub for the city’s Internet traffic.
Set up in 1995, it allows all data between local servers to be routed locally instead of having to pass through exchanges in other countries, including the United States.
“We hack network backbones – like huge Internet routers, basically – that gives us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden told the SCMP.
According to Snowden’s documents, other NSA hacking targets included Hong Kong public officials, students and businesspeople, as well as targets on the mainland, though they did not include Chinese military systems, the paper said, without giving details.
A large number of mainland businesses, including state-owned ones, have offices in Hong Kong. The People’s Liberation Army has a base in Hong Kong and the central government and foreign affairs department have offices there.
The university is also home to the Satellite Remote Sensing Receiving Station, which captures data and imagery used to monitor the environment and natural disasters in a 2,500-kilometer radius around Hong Kong, an area that includes most of the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asia.
The university said in a statement that “every effort is made to protect” the exchange, which is monitored around the clock to defend against threats. “The university has not detected any form of hacking to the network, which has been running normally,” it said.