US in own spy quagmire after accusing China

Updated: 2013-06-11 11:18

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

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After months of accusing the Chinese of cyber espionage, the US itself is struggling with a series of allegations that its government has been engaging in massive intelligence gathering, concerning both its own citizens and people in other parts of the world.

In the past week, the Obama administration has been dealing with the repercussions of the disclosures that the National Security Agency has been mining data of phone and e-mail records of its citizens in its fight against terrorism.

On Sunday, the leaker of the scandal came out in the open. He is 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a consultant for strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton who had worked for an NSA facility in Hawaii.

In an interview with a reporter from the UK newspaper the Guardian in Hong Kong, Snowden said that his intention was to make the public aware of the US government's surveillance of its own people, but he worried that no changes would come from it.

"The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change," he said.

People "won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests," he said.

Snowden described US leaders as using excuses such as crises, danger in the world and unpredictable threat to gain power. "There will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny," he said.

As some US government officials and lawmakers vowed to go after Snowden, his whereabouts suddenly became unclear late Monday afternoon after Mira, the boutique hotel in Hong Kong where Snowden had been hold up, said that he was no longer registered there.

No one is sure whether Snowden has left Hong Kong. But talks were rife on Monday in the US about the prospect of Snowden being extradited from Hong Kong back to the US, given the extradition treaty the two inked in 1997.

Although analysts believe Snowden is unlikely to seek asylum in Hong Kong or the Chinese mainland, he told the Guardian that he does not believe China is an enemy of the US.

"We trade with each other freely, we're not at war, we're not in armed conflict and we're not trying to be," he said.

While some call Snowden a traitor, a petition to the White House has been started to seek a presidential pardon.

"Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs," the petition said. More than 31,560 people had signed the petition by 8:44 pm Monday.

According to the information Snowden leaked, the NSA and FBI have been tapping directly into the central servers of nine major US internet firms, such as Apple and Google, extracting video chats, photos, e-mails, documents, connection logs and other information that enables analysts to track foreign targets.

Meanwhile, the information showed that a US court had ordered Verizon Business Network Service to turn phone records over to the NSA. Other major phone companies, such as AT&T and Sprint, were also said to be involved.

The news has triggered heated debate about privacy and civil liberty under the Obama administration.

The Obama administration is known for going after leakers. Bradley Manning, a 25-year-old army soldier, was arrested in Iraq three years ago on suspicion of passing classified information to WikiLeaks.

US officials have also vowed to hunt down WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is now living in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Supporters of Manning and Assange have both launched campaigns to nominate them for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

While shockwaves from the NSA scandal are expected to reverberate further, most US news outlets have ignored a Reuters report that shows the US government has become the biggest buyer in a burgeoning gray market where hackers and security firms sell tools for breaking into computers.

(China Daily USA 06/11/2013 page2)