A Hong Kong media outlet has revealed today that NSA leaker Edward Snowden sought the position as an NSA contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton specifically to gather evidence on NSA surveillance.
From the South China Morning Post:
Edward Snowden secured a job with a US government contractor for one reason alone – to obtain evidence on Washington’s cyberspying networks, the South China Morning Post can reveal.
For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
During a global online chat last week, Snowden also stated he took pay cuts “in the course of pursuing specific work”.
Snowden first revealed information about the NSA’s domestic surveillance policies, sparking a national debate amongst the public in the US. But his actions have since left many scratching their heads as he has progressively shared more and more information with Hong Kong media about US foreign intelligence activities.
Among the damaging information he has revealed to date has been that shared with two Hong Kong news outlets about US cyber intelligence, in which Snowden made allegations that the US has been hacking China and Hong Kong, and provided specific details about targets the US allegedly selected. The revelations, while likely suspected by some in China and Hong Kong, gave China fuel to portray itself as a victim in the ongoing cyber conflict between itself and the US.
From the New York Times:
Mr. Snowden’s disclosures appeared to confirm the Chinese government’s argument, and put the United States on the defensive. The highly classified documents that Mr. Snowden gave to the two newspapers showed that the N.S.A. compiled logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and collected the e-mail of foreigners from American Internet companies.
The disclosures by Mr. Snowden set off a surge of commentary against American “double faced” and “arrogant” behavior by many users of China’s version of Twitter.
In some instances, the Chinese news media made snide references to what it called the gap between how the United States portrayed itself, and what the United States practiced. “Washington must be grinding its teeth because Snowden’s revelations have almost overturned the image of the U.S. as the defender of a free Internet,” Global Times, which often reflects the official point of view, wrote in an editorial.
Snowden further told the South China Morning Post that US hacking evidence wasn’t limited to just Hong Kong and China, and that he intended to leak more documents to press in other countries.
Asked if he specifically went to Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence of surveillance, he replied: “Correct on Booz.”
His intention was to collect information about the NSA hacking into “the whole world” and “not specifically Hong Kong and China”.
The documents he divulged to the Post were obtained during his tenure at Booz Allen Hamilton in April, he said.
He also signalled his intention to leak more of those documents at a later date.
“If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published.”
As Professor Jacobson noted at the start of this saga in his post titled “Snowden Job?,” Snowden’s initial accusations came at a crucial point in time when the US and China were meeting to address numerous issues pertaining to the relationship between the two countries – most importantly US complaints of China’s cyber espionage.
Or, it may be that this is all too perfect, that the criminally leaked documents have been misconstrued by journalists with agendas and that the programs at issue previously were disclosed at least in generalities and have safeguards built in, but none of that matters because the leaks come precisely at a time when the Chinese government has come under increasingly distressed complaints by U.S. industry and government over cyber-espionage and on the eve of a trip to the U.S. by Chinese President Xi Jinping at which Obama was expected to make cyber-espionage a central issue, thereby emasculating complaints about Chinese activities.
Officials in the US are still conducting a damage assessment in response to Snowden’s leaks and accusations, so we still don’t know the full extent of what Snowden has shared and with whom, and whether or not any of it has definitively jeopardized US national security. But it seems clear that the situation has at the very least certainly placed a strain on an already difficult and complex relationship with China.
It remains to be seen whether or not Snowden follows through and leaks documents to other countries’ press as well.
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