‘I am here to reveal criminality,’ NSA leaker tells Hong Kong newspaper
HONG KONG (CNN) — The former NSA contractor who disappeared after he acknowledged leaking details about secret American surveillance programs will fight any effort to bring him back to the United States for prosecution, a Hong Kong newspaper reported Wednesday.
“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” the South China Morning Post quoted Edward Snowden as saying. “I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”
The newspaper said Snowden, 29, has been hiding in undisclosed locations inside the semiautonomous Chinese territory since checking out of his hotel room Monday — a day after he revealed his identity in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian.
Snowden told the Morning Post that he had had “many opportunities” to flee the country, “but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
“As long as I am assured a free and fair trial, and asked to appear, that seems reasonable,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Snowden’s leaks forced U.S. intelligence officials to reveal the existence of programs to collect millions of records concerning domestic telephone calls in the United States as well as the online activities of Internet users in other countries.
Supporters say the programs are legal and have helped stop terror plots, but civil liberties advocates call the measures dangerous and unacceptable intrusions.
A Philadelphia couple and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed separate lawsuits challenging the telephone surveillance program.
“The practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book — with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where,” the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups said in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.
On the defensive
Such criticisms have put President Barack Obama and his allies on the issue — both Democrats and Republicans — on the defensive against mounting criticisms from a similarly bipartisan group of critics demanding changes to rein in the programs.
Those differences will likely be on display Wednesday when the Senate Appropriations Committee holds a hearing into cybersecurity technology and civil liberties. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, is among those scheduled to testify.
While not on the roster for Wednesday’s hearing, another administration official in the spotlight is Director of Intelligence James Clapper, whom Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has singled out for how he answered questions about the telephone surveillance program in March.
In March, Wyden asked Clapper if the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
“No sir,” Clapper said.
On Saturday, Clapper told NBC News that he answered in the “most truthful or least most untruthful manner” possible.
He told NBC that he had interpreted “collection” to mean actually examining the materials gathered by the NSA.
He previously told the National Journal he had meant that “the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails,” but he did not mention e-mails at the hearing.
‘Not here to hide from justice’
The FBI has launched an investigation into the leaks, and Snowden has told The Guardian newspaper that he expects to be charged under the Espionage Act.
The prospect of charges has worried some of his advocates, who note Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the United States and could choose to turn him over once charges are filed.
Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip, a former secretary of security for the territory, said Tuesday that while any extradition process could take months, Snowden isn’t necessarily beyond the reach of the United States.
“If he thought there was a legal vacuum in Hong Kong which renders him safe from U.S. jurisdiction, that is unlikely to be the case,” she said.
But Snowden told the Morning Post he is not trying to evade U.S. authorities.
“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
Meanwhile, the political and philosophical battle over the surveillance programs continued, in Congress and elsewhere.
House members from both political parties Tuesday raised concerns with administration officials who briefed the entire chamber on the government’s recently revealed top secret surveillance programs.
On Wednesday — a day after House members from both parties raised concerns with administration officials during a briefing on the programs — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised “serious investigations into potential wrongdoing.”
“Over the past few weeks there have been stories after stories that have eroded the trust in our government,” he said. “And Americans shouldn’t really have to worry whether their government is going to hold their political beliefs against them, as it seems the IRS is doing, or whether their government is telling them the truth.”
Another Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, said he believed the journalists involved in reporting stories about the surveillance programs should be investigated.
“If they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude,” King, who leads the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism, told CNN’s “AC360°” on Tuesday.
“There is an obligation both moral, but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security,” he said. “As a practical matter, I guess there have been in the past several years a number of reporters who have been prosecuted” under the Espionage Act.
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who was the lead writer of the articles based on Snowden’s disclosures, said Monday that as an American citizen, he is guaranteed freedom of the press by the First Amendment.
“I intend to take the Constitution at its word and continue to do my job as a journalist,” he said.
As for Snowden, King said there’s no doubt he should face charges.
“I think what he’s done has been incredible damage to our country. It’s going to put American lives at risk,” he said.
The congressman did not provide specific examples of how the leaked information damaged national security but argued that it helps enemies of the United States.
But others, including liberal activist and filmmaker Michael Moore and conservative commentator Glenn Beck, have said Snowden is a hero for revealing the secret programs.
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