PRISM snitch Edward Snowden now claims to have data which proves the NSA has been hacking hundreds of civilian targets in China and Hong Kong since 2009.
Public officials, businesses and students as well as the Chinese University of Hong Kong were among the targets in the former British colony, Snowden told the South China Morning Post.
The former information security engineer at defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton (the firm just fired him) showed the paper unverified documents purporting to reveal attacks on Hong Kong and mainland targets.
“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 told the paper.
However, Chinese military targets apparently weren’t among those shown in the data and there’s no additional info in the story about exactly what level of access these attacks gave the NSA.
Snowden claimed his new revelations were designed to expose “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.
However, it should come as no great surprise that US security forces are actively monitoring and gathering intelligence on targets in China and around the world, although it comes at an awkward moment for the Obama administration as it tries to persuade the PRC to tone down its prolific government-sponsored IP theft.
Snowden's allegations should play well locally inasmuch as he wants to resist extradition to the US, despite a long-standing bilateral agreement between Washington and Hong Kong meaning barriers to his deportation are low.
Whether he is now an attractive enough asset for Beijing to want to keep hold of remains to be seen, but there is growing support for him on both sides of the Pacific.
If the locals rally around Snowden in big enough numbers as a kind of cause celebre of free speech then it may become even trickier for Washington to displace him. ®