HONG KONG — The decision by a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor to divulge classified data about the U.S. government’s surveillance of computers in mainland China and Hong Kong has complicated his legal position but may make China’s security apparatus more interested in helping him stay in Hong Kong, law and security experts said Friday.
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, reported Friday that Edward Snowden, the former contractor, had shared detailed data showing the dates and Internet Protocol addresses of specific computers in mainland China and Hong Kong that the NSA penetrated in the past four years. The data also showed whether the agency was still breaking into these computers, the success rates for hacking and other operational information.
Snowden told the newspaper the computers were in the civilian sector. But Western experts have long said the dividing line between the civilian sector and the government is blurry in China. State-owned or state-controlled enterprises control much of the economy, and virtually all are run by Communist Party cadres that tend to rotate back and forth between government and corporate jobs every few years as part of elaborate career-development procedures.
Kevin Egan, a former prosecutor in Hong Kong who has represented people fighting extradition to the United States, said Snowden’s latest disclosures would make it harder for him to fight an expected request by the United States for him to be turned over to U.S. law enforcement. “He’s digging his own grave with a very large spade,” he said.
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But a person with ties to mainland Chinese military and intelligence agencies said Snowden’s latest disclosures showed he and his accumulated documents could be valuable to China, particularly if Snowden chooses to cooperate with mainland authorities. “The idea is very tempting, but how do you do that, unless he defects,” said the person, who insisted on anonymity. “It all depends on his attitude.”
The person declined to comment on whether Chinese intelligence agencies would obtain copies of all of Snowden’s computer files anyway if he were arrested by the Hong Kong police pursuant to a warrant from the United States, where the Justice Department has been reviewing possible charges against him.
The South China Morning Post said one target of NSA hacking identified by Snowden was the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which hosts the city’s main hub for Internet connections to the rest of the world.
The newspaper said it had not independently verified the accuracy of the data Snowden provided. But the U.S. government has not questioned the authenticity of any of the documents he has released.