An intelligence contractor who disclosed a top-secret National Security Agency electronic surveillance program surfaced in Hong Kong on Sunday and suggested he planned to defect to China.
Edward Snowden, a cyber security technical specialist with the intelligence contractor Booz, Allen, Hamilton, appeared in a video posted by the British newspaper the Guardian, which first disclosed the spying program and other top-secret details of U.S. government electronic intelligence and surveillance.
Asked by Guardian correspondent Glenn Greenwald about his presence in Hong Kong and whether he plans to defect to China, Snowden said the assumption that “China is an enemy of the United States” is wrong. “It’s not,” he said.
Despite conflicts between the U.S. and Chinese governments, the peoples of the two countries do not care, he said. “We’re not at war, in armed conflict … we’re the largest trading partners,” he said.
Hong Kong, a Chinese province that was once a British colony, has a long tradition of free speech and has an “unfiltered Internet,” Snowden said.
“And I believe that the Hong Kong government is actually independent in relation to a lot of other leading western governments,” Snowden said.
However, China has been slowly over the years tightening its grip on Hong Kong, by infiltrating communist cadres into the legislature and muzzling the press.
For Chinese intelligence, Snowden would be a gold mine of intelligence on U.S. electronic spying capabilities, a known target of the Ministry of State Security, China’s intelligence service.
For the U.S. intelligence community, the compromise of top-secret intelligence to China through Snowden would be an intelligence loss of strategic significance, according to analysts.
Snowden said he did not plan to sell secrets to Russia. “Anybody with the positions of access and the technical capabilities that I had, could, you know, suck out secrets and pass them on the open market to Russia,” he said. “They always have an open door, as we do.”
He then explained that he had access to very sensitive electronic intelligence information.
“I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world,” Snowden said. “The locations of every station we have, what their missions are. … If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., you could shut the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention.”
Snowden said his greatest fear from his disclosures is that “nothing will change.”
Earlier, Snowden said he fears he could be kidnapped by the CIA or its allies. He also suggested the Chinese organized crime group known as the Triads could be used to harm him.
“We’ve got a CIA station just up the road at the consulate here in Hong Kong,” he said. “I’m sure they’re going to be very busy for the next week. And that’s a fear I’ll have to live for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”
He called NSA intelligence activities “the architecture of oppression.”
Snowden, 29, said he was an “infrastructure analyst for NSA” at the agency’s top-secret facility in Hawaii.
Snowden said he took the action against the U.S. government to protest what he believed to be “abuses” that he asserted are unlawful and anti-democratic actions by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Snowden stated in the video that originally NSA and the U.S. intelligence community generally were focused overseas, but shifted to domestic spying. “Now increasingly we see it’s happening domestically,” he said. “To do that, the NSA targets the communications of everyone.”
“I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone,” Snowden said, “from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, even the president if I had a personal email.”
Snowden said he was not against the United States or the U.S. government.
He said he believes intelligence bureaucrats should not be making decisions about electronic surveillance but that “the public needs to decide whether these are right or wrong.”
Shawn Turner, a DNI spokesman, said in a statement that he would not comment as the matter was referred to the Justice Department for investigation.
"The Intelligence Community is currently reviewing the damage that has been done by these recent disclosures," he said. "Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law."