It’s a good thing Obama and Xi met last week, because following the latest revelations by Edward Snowden, just released as part of an ongoing series of interviews posted by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, there may have been some very awkward silence between the leaders of the world’s superpowers. Especially since what he revealed once again exposes the US as nothing but a schoolyard hypocrite bully, which has been spinning a PR campaign “exposing” Chinese hackers as the biggest threat to internet security and privacy, when in reality it was the US that has done the bulk of snooping on Chinese soil.
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. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he said.
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.
“Last week the American government happily operated in the shadows with no respect for the consent of the governed, but no longer. Every level of society is demanding accountability and oversight.”
Snowden said he was releasing the information to demonstrate “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.
“Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.”
If true, Snowden’s allegations lend credence to China’s longstanding position that it is as much a victim of hacking as a perpetrator, after Obama pressed Xi to rein in cyber-espionage by the Chinese military.
The irony continues because in world in which China suddenly has the moral superiority to an America, that is more reminiscent to the “Evil Empire” USSR from the 1950s than anything the founders had envisioned, it is Russia that Snowden exposes as the country not afraid to stand up to the world’s most arrogant bully:
Asked if he had been offered asylum by the Russian government, he said: “My only comment is that I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power”.
Published in Foreign Policy magazine and called “Inside the NSA’s Ultra Secret Hacking Group”, the story by Mathew Aid lifts the lid on the US’s covert cyber operations in China. The US continually accuses China of cybercrime. However, senior Beijing officials accuse the US government of hypocrisy and allege Washington is also actively engaged in cyber-espionage.
“The Chinese government’s allegations are essentially correct,” the article reveals. “According to a number of confidential sources, a highly secretive unit of the National Security Agency (NSA), the US government’s huge electronic eavesdropping organisation, called the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, has successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecommunications systems for almost 15 years, generating some of the best and most reliable intelligence information about what is going on inside China.”
When the latest allegation of Chinese cyber-espionage was made last month, it alleged hackers employed by the Chinese military had stolen the blueprints of more than three dozen American weapons systems. The Chinese government’s top internet official, Huang Chengqing, responded that Beijing possessed “mountains of data” showing the US has engaged in widespread hacking to steal Chinese government secrets.
Revelations about the NSA’s Prism operation from former CIA undercover operative Edward Snowden have added fuel to Beijing’s stance, and Foreign Policy’s exposé confirms China’s claims.
“According to former NSA officials … TAO’s mission is simple. It collects intelligence information on foreign targets by surreptitiously hacking into their computers and telecommunications systems, and then copying all the messages and data traffic passing within the targeted e-mail and text-messaging systems,” the story revealed.
“TAO is also responsible for developing the information that would allow the United States to destroy or damage foreign computer and telecommunications systems with a cyber attack if so directed by the president. TAO, sources say, is now the largest and arguably the most important component of the NSA’s huge intelligence gathering network.”
Back to Snowden and his conclusion:
“I’m very grateful for the support of the public,” he said. “But I ask that they act in their interest – save their money for letters to the government that breaks the law and claims it noble.
“The reality is that I have acted at great personal risk to help the public of the world, regardless of whether that public is American, European, or Asian.”
We can only hope that the same public will care.