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Snowden’s Quest Isn’t About Civil Liberties

Renegade NSA techie Edward Snowden apparently seems to be extending his campaign to do as much damage as possible to America’s national security. It’s not bad enough that he blew two highly classified programs designed, with considerable safeguards to protect civil liberties, to monitor telephone calls and Internet traffic. Now in an interview with the South China Morning Post, a newspaper in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong which is owned by the pro-Beijing billionaire Robert Kuok, he has disclosed what he describes as U.S. government efforts to penetrate computer networks in China and Hong Kong.

After an extensive interview with him, the Post reported:

Snowden said that according to unverified documents seen by the Post, the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009.

One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.

Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

“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 said.

This is very useful information–for Chinese authorities. What wider purpose it could possibly serve in Snowden’s self-styled war for American liberties is hard to say. None of this hacking was directed against American citizens, after all; it was directed, assuming his account is accurate, against a rival state that itself engages in extensive hacking of American computer networks. Constitutional protections certainly don’t apply to citizens of foreign states. One wonders what further information is contained in the “unverified documents” he handed to the Post; whatever it is, it’s a safe bet that it is harmful to America’s security and that it is now in the hands of Chinese intelligence.

Whatever other information Snowden possesses (and he claims to have taken many more Top Secret documents with him than have so far been published) will undoubtedly wind up in Chinese hands too. That’s inevitable given that Snowden has chosen to hide out on Chinese territory; Hong Kong’s supposedly separate political system, which is in fact increasingly compromised by Beijing’s heavy-handed authoritarianism, will not for a minute stop Chinese intelligence agents from seeking to learn what he knows. His computer and cell phone undoubtedly have been downloaded by Chinese authorities already, with or without his permission. It would not be surprising if intelligence operatives seek to interrogate him as well–and if he refuses to talk he could face the threat of extradition and the likelihood of a long prison term in the United States.

Snowden looks less and less like an overzealous civil libertarian and more and more like someone driven by the same kind of anti-American animus which inspires Julian Assange, the accused rapist and WikiLeaks founder. Snowden is now objectively serving the interests of the People’s Republic of China–not the people of the United States.


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