The United States has systematically attacked networks and computer systems in China and Hong Kong for years, according to claims laid by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency employee who leaked details about the clandestine global PRISM bulk surveillance scheme.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden said the PRISM surveillance programme extended to China and Hong Kong.
According to Snowden, the NSA has attacked Chinese networks since 2009, attempting to compromise hundreds of networks and computers in universities, public offices, businesses and individuals on the mainland and in Hong Kong.
While Snowden did not reveal the NSA's motives behind the alleged 61,000 global hacking operations, he said they were done by accessing internet backbone networks.
“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,” Snowden told the SCMP.
The US government is being a hypocrite, Snowden said, when it claims not to target civilian infrastructure the way its adversaries does.
Snowden feared he may be extradited to the US, or rendered there by Central Intelligence Agency operatives. However, due to the nature of his alleged offences and the need to disclose the top secret classified material involved in these, the US may find it difficult to build an argument to extradite Snowden, the LA Times reported.
The NSA is thought to be intercepting information from global backbone networks via operations Blarney and Fairview, the details of which have not been made public. The Electronic Frontier Foundation civil liberties lobby group is encouraging United States politicians who will be briefed in private on the programmes to find out more about Blarney and Fairview as well as other, similar programmes in effect.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports [paywall, registration required] that the US pressured the European Commission in January last year to remove a clause in proposed legislation that would have nullified American requests for technology and telecommunications companies to hand over data on EU citizens.
Although the clause was deemed by several EU states as nonsensical due to the servers in question being located in the United States and therefore under the jurisdiction of that country, Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano and Commerce Department legal counsel Cameron Kerry flew to Europe to lobby against it.
A leaked version of the original proposal from 2011 [PDF] made it clear the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA, that operates in secret, would not be able to demand EU citizens' data from any internet provider without a formal agreement with the Europeans.
The article in question has since been removed [PDF] by the EC.