If such a thing is possible, the intelligence community’s unhappiness with Edward Snowden has ratcheted up another notch. It was bad enough that he revealed yesterday that the NSA had been hacking targets in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Today, in a newly published interview in the South China Morning Post, Snowden showed a sample of some of the data he has:
The detailed records – which cannot be independently verified – show specific dates and the IP addresses of computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland hacked by the National Security Agency over a four-year period.
They also include information indicating whether an attack on a computer was ongoing or had been completed, along with an amount of additional operational information.
The small sample data suggests secret and illegal NSA attacks on Hong Kong computers had a success rate of more than 75 per cent, according to the documents. The information only pertains to attacks on civilian computers with no reference to Chinese military operations, Snowden said.
“I don’t know what specific information they were looking for on these machines, only that using technical exploits to gain unauthorised access to civilian machines is a violation of law. It’s ethically dubious,” Snowden said in the interview on Wednesday.
The article consistently uses the word “shown” rather than “given to” with respect to the detailed information, but it’s a safe bet that US outlets will depict him as having handed documents over to the SCMP, and hence to “China”. And even in more discerning circles, this move is likely to cost him sympathy points in the US. Based on the disclosure of Chinese hacking the previous day, the Congresscritters on the intelligence committee are now questioning his bona fides. From the Financial Times:
While many senior members of Congress have already labelled Mr Snowden a “traitor”, some lawmakers have started to raise suspicions about his links to China.
“We are going to make sure that there’s a thorough scrub of what his China connections are,” said Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee. “We need to ask a lot more questions about his motives and his connections – where he ended up, why he is there, how is he sustaining himself while he is there and is the Chinese government fully co-operating?”
Responding to Mr Snowden’s claim that while working at the NSA he could hack anyone’s phone or email, Mr Rogers replied said he “was lying”.
“He clearly has overinflated his position, he has overinflated his access and he’s even overinflated what the actually technology of the programs would allow one to do,” said Mr Rogers. “It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”
“It seems unusual that he would be in China and asking for protection of the Chinese government and giving press conferences to the Chinese media,” said Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee. “We’re going to investigate.”
“He chose to go to China, a country that’s cyber attacking us every single day, taking billions of dollars of American business data,” Mr Ruppersberger added.
Hhhm, the lady doth protest way too much. A talk with one paper is not a “press conference” and various experts have deemed Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a place to fight extradition to be savvy. But they’ve also said that even with the independence of Hong Kong relative to the mainland, that the government was likely to yield to pressure if Beijing decided to support the inevitable US extradition request. Snowden’s leaks look like a desperate gambit to increase friction between the US and China to prevent that. But this is going to make it easy to depict him as a traitor, ready to sell US secrets to save his hide. And how can Snowden disprove any claims made about his past dealings? The only thing he has in his favor is that going public and then trying to curry favor with the Chinese government is just about the dumbest way imaginable to trade on classified information.
Snowden alleged large-scale collection of information in China. From the SCMP:
One of the targets Snowden revealed was Chinese University, home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange which is a central hub of servers through which all web traffic in the city passes.
A university spokeswoman said yesterday that staff had not detected any attacks to its “backbone network”…
“The primary issue of public importance to Hong Kong and mainland China should be that the NSA is illegally seizing the communications of tens of millions of individuals without any individualised suspicion of wrongdoing,” Snowden said. “They simply steal everything so they can search for any topics of interest.”
But even if the surveillance overlords get even hotter under the collar, they were already in full bore “get him” mode. The NSA made a crime report to the Department of Justice in record time. The NSA’s internal police, Q Group, the DoJ, and Interpol have issued a Red Notice on him, which means the police in 190 countries are on the alert to arrest him and get him extradited. The British government has told airlines to deny Snowden passage to the UK (as if he’d want to go there).
Unless as Snowden himself mentioned, that the US either subjects him to extraordinary rendition or hires someone in the Chinese mafia to dispatch him, Snowden is shaping up to be a continuing source of embarrassment and consternation to the security state in the US. If he can stay out of their clutches long enough, it will be highly instructive to see how they contend with being under the bright lights for a change.