South China Morning Post Newspaper Full Interview With Snowden

South China Morning Post Newspaper Full Interview With Snowden

Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 11:50am

Edward Snowden says he wants to ask the people of Hong Kong to decide his fate after choosing the city because of his faith in its rule of law.

The 29-year-old former CIA employee behind what might be the biggest intelligence leak in US history revealed his identity to the world in Hong Kong on Sunday. His decision to use a city under Chinese sovereignty as his haven has been widely questioned – including by some rights activists in Hong Kong.

Snowden said last night that he had no doubts about his choice of Hong Kong.

“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden said in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post.

“I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law,” he added.

Snowden says he has committed no crimes in Hong Kong and has “been given no reason to doubt [Hong Kong’s legal] system”.

“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” he said.

I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Snowden, a former employee of US government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked with the National Security Agency, boarded a flight to Hong Kong on May 20 and has remained in the city ever since.

His astonishing confession on Sunday sparked a media frenzy in Hong Kong, with journalists from around the world trying to track him down. It has also caused a flurry of debate in the city over whether he should stay and whether

Beijing will seek to interfere in a likely extradition case.

The Hong Kong government has so far refused to comment on Snowden’s case. While many Hong Kong lawmakers, legal experts, activisits and members of the public have called on the city’s courts to protect Snowden’s rights, others such as Beijing loyalist lawmaker and former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said he should leave.

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said he was surprised by Snowden’s choice, adding: “Snowden’s positive view of Hong Kong no longer matches the reality.”

Law said a possible reason for his choice could be Hong Kong’s role as the region’s news hub.

“Hong Kong remains a hub of the global media, not least because of its proximity to the economic boom in southern China and the ease of access to many other Asian cities. The publicity could complicate efforts by the United States to charge Snowden and have him deported,” he said.

Snowden said yesterday that he felt safe in the city.

“As long as I am assured a free and fair trial, and asked to appear, that seems reasonable,” he said.

He says he plans to stay in Hong Kong until he is “asked to leave”.

The United States has not yet filed an application for extradition.

Snowden could choose to fight any extradition attempt in court. Another option open to him is to seek refugee status from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Hong Kong.

The UNHCR would not confirm whether it had received an application for refugee status from Snowden.

Earlier, in the interview in which he revealed his identity to the world, Snowden explained that he had sought refuge in Hong Kong because it “has a strong tradition of free speech” and “a long tradition of protesting in the streets.”

Local activists plan to take to the streets on Saturday in support of Snowden. Groups including the Civil Human Rights Front and international human rights groups will march from Chater Gardens in Central to the US consulate on Garden Road, starting at 3pm.

The march is being organised by In-media, a website supporting freelance journalists.

“We call on Hong Kong to respect international legal standards and procedures relating to the protection of Snowden; we condemn the US government for violating our rights and privacy; and we call on the US not to prosecute Snowden,” the group said in a statement.

The US has been “trying to bully” Hong Kong’s government into extraditing surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden, he told the Post in an exclusive interview.

Hong Kong justice officials have so far declined to comment on any official or unofficial approaches they may have from their US counterparts, but the former CIA contractor warned that America was desperate to prevent him leaking further sensitive information.

He said: “I heard today from a reliable source that the United States government is trying to bully the Hong Kong government into extraditing me before the local government can learn of this [the US National Security Agency hacking people in Hong Kong]. The US government will do anything to prevent me from getting this into the public eye, which is why they are pushing so hard for extradition.”

So far, Hong Kong’s government has failed to make any statement regarding Snowden’s presence in the city since May 20 or where it stands on the issues of asylum and extradition.

The US government will do anything to prevent me from getting this into the public eye, which is why they are pushing so hard for extradition
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has remained tight-lipped on the matter in what has turned out to be an awkward trip to the United States to promote trade relations. He refused to respond to media questions about the case when he attended a plenary meeting hosted by the Hong Kong-US Business Council in New York yesterday.

Earlier in the week he met New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to talk about the challenges facing both their cities, but again, no mention of the Snowden affair was made. The meeting had been rescheduled in the immediate aftermath of Snowden revealing himself as the source of the leaks.

Before a dinner in his honour hosted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council on Tuesday, Leung, who flies home today, was asked six questions by reporters about Snowden. “I have no comment on individual cases,” he said.

Asked whether he had discussed the issue with US officials and whether US officials had sought assistance from the Hong Kong government, Leung again said he could not comment.

Asked about how extraditions to friendly countries were handled, he said: “In general, we follow the laws and our policies.”

In a wide-ranging and frank hour-long interview, the 29-year-old, who US authorities have confirmed they are building a criminal case against, said he was neither a hero nor a traitor and said that:

US National Security Agency’s controversial Prism programme extends to people and institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China;

The US is exerting “bullying’’ diplomatic pressure on Hong Kong to extradite him;

Hong Kong’s rule of law will protect him from the US;

He is in constant fear for his own safety and that of his family.

Snowden has been in Hong Kong since May 20 when he fled his hometown in Hawaii to take refuge here, a move which has been questioned by many who believe the city cannot protect him.

“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 said.

Snowden said that according to unverified documents seen by the Post, the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he said.

One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was the Chinese University of Hong Kong and public officials businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.

Snowden claimed that overall, he believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Snowden said he was releasing the information to demonstrate “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.

“Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.”

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 whistle-blowers should not fear
Snowden said he believed that the US was putting pressure on the Hong Kong government to extradite him.

“Unfortunately, the US government is now bullying the Hong Kong government to prevent me from continuing my work,” he said.

“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 whistle-blowers should not fear.”

Since the shocking revelations were revealed a week ago, Snowden has been vilified as a defector but also hailed by supporters such as WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

“I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American,” he said, adding that he was proud to be an American. “I believe in freedom of expression. I acted in good faith but it is only right that the public form its own opinion.”

Snowden said he had not contacted his family and feared for their safety as well as his own.

“I will never feel safe.

“Things are very difficult for me in all terms, but speaking truth to power is never without risk,” he said. “It has been difficult, but I have been glad to see the global public speak out against these sorts of systemic violations of privacy.

“All I can do is rely on my training and hope that world governments will refuse to be bullied by the United States into persecuting people seeking political refuge.”

Asked if he had been offered asylum by the Russian government, he said: “My only comment is that I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power”.

Tens of thousands of Snowden’s supporters have signed a petition calling for his pardon in the United States while many have donated money to a fund to help him.

“I’m very grateful for the support of the public,” he said. “But I ask that they act in their interest – save their money for letters to the government that breaks the law and claims it noble.

“The reality is that I have acted at great personal risk to help the public of the world, regardless of whether that public is American, European, or Asian.”