HONG KONG — Edward Snowden, the self-confessed leaker of secret surveillance documents, claimed Wednesday that the United States has mounted massive hacking operations against hundreds of Chinese targets since 2009.
The former contractor, whose work at the National Security Agency gave him access to highly classified U.S. intelligence, made the assertions in an interview with the South China Morning Post. The newspaper said he showed it “unverified documents” describing an extensive U.S. campaign to obtain information from computers in Hong Kong and mainland China.
“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 newspaper.
According to Snowden, the NSA has engaged in more than 61,000 hacking operations worldwide, including hundreds aimed at Chinese targets. Among the targets were universities, businesses and public officials.
The interview was the first time Snowden has surfaced publicly since he acknowledged in interviews with The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper Sunday that he was responsible for disclosing classified documents outlining extensive U.S. surveillance efforts in the United States.
Senior American officials have accused China of hacking into U.S. military and business computers. Snowden’s claims of extensive U.S. hacking of Chinese computers tracks assertions made repeatedly by senior Chinese government officials that they are victims of similar cyber-intrusions.
Snowden’s claims could not be verified, and U.S. officials did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
In the interview with the Morning Post posted online Wednesday, Snowden said he stood by his decision to seek asylum in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous city, after leaking documents about a high-level U.S. surveillance program.
By speaking with Hong Kong’s oldest English-language newspaper, Snowden seemed to be directly addressing the city he has chosen as his safe harbor. And by disclosing that he possesses documents that he says describe U.S. hacking against China, he appeared to be trying to win support from the Chinese government.