US hacked into Chinese phone firms, claims Snowden
Edward Snowden, the former CIA technician who blew the whistle on global surveillance operations, has opened a new front against the US authorities, claiming they hacked into Chinese mobile phone firms to access millions of private text messages.
His latest claims came as some Hong Kong politicians called for Mr Snowden to be protected from extradition to the US after the justice department in Washington filed criminal charges against him.
The latest developments will raise fears that the US's action may have pushed Mr Snowden into the hands of the Chinese, triggering what could be a prolonged diplomatic wrangle.
Mr Snowden, whose whereabouts have not been publicly known since he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel on June 10, was reported by the Chinese media yesterday to be in a "safe place" in the former British colony.
The 30-year-old intelligence analyst has over the past three weeks leaked a series of documents to the Guardian newspaper revealing how US and UK secret services gain access to huge amounts of phone and internet data, raising serious questions about privacy in the internet age.
On Friday, based on documents from Mr Snowden, the Guardian reported that Britain's spy agency GCHQ had secretly gained access to the network of cables carrying the world's phone calls and internet traffic. It was also reported that GCHQ is processing vast streams of sensitive information which it is sharing with its US partner, the National Security Agency.
Yesterday, the former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who now chairs the intelligence and security committee, said the committee would launch an investigation into the latest revelations.
Within hours of news breaking that the US had filed charges against Mr Snowden, the South China Morning Post reported that the whistleblower had handed over a series of documents to the paper detailing how the US had targeted Chinese phone firms.
Mr Snowden reportedly told the paper: "The NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cellphone companies to steal all of your SMS data."
The US has charged Mr Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorised person.