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Edward Snowden Applying for Political Asylum in China After Leaking US Intelligence Documents


White House declines to comment on NSA whistle-blower

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2013 (Xinhua) --

The White House on Monday declined to comment on a whistle-blower who revealed details about two classified surveillance programs by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the daily briefing that he would not comment on the development of a whistle-blower who admitted he was behind the recent leaks of classified surveillance programs.

"I will say at the outset that there is obviously an investigation underway into this matter," Carney said, "And for that reason, I am not going to be able to discuss specifically this individual or this investigation, nor would I characterize the president's views on an individual or an ongoing investigation. "

Carney said President Barack Obama had been briefed by members of his senior staff on the development of the incident, but declined to say whether Obama watched the whistle-blower's video interview released on Sunday by the Guardian newspaper.

Carney defended the administration's broad approach to national security and the classified surveillance programs. He said it was "entirely appropriate for a program to exist" to look at the foreign data and foreign potential terrorists.

"In general leaks of sensitive classified information that cause harm to our national security interests are a problem," he said.

Carney also stressed that the president had made clear the congressional, executive and judicial levels provided oversight over these programs.

Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old whistle-blower went public in a video interview with the Guardian after he leaked information on the National Security Agency's secret phone and Internet surveillance programs.

According to the video interview conducted in Hong Kong with The Guardian, Snowden previously served in a number of roles in the intelligence community, including as a former technical assistant with the CIA and with several outside contractors.

According to the Guardian and the Washington Post reports last Thursday, the NSA and the FBI had been secretly tapping directly into the central servers of nine U.S. internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time.

The technology companies all participated knowingly in PRISM operations. They include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.

By late Thursday night, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper moved quickly to defend the PRISM program, saying the related reports published by the two newspapers contained " numerous inaccuracies."

During his visit to the U.S. state of California, Obama on Friday defended the phone and internet surveillance programs, stressing that the tracking of internet activity has not applied to U.S. citizens or people living in the country.

The president also insisted that these surveillance programs have been fully authorized by the U.S. Congress and conducted to help prevent terrorist attacks.

U.S. mines data from internet companies in secret program: report

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2013 (Xinhua) --

U.S. National Security Agency ( NSA) and the FBI are secretly tapping directly into the central servers of nine U.S. internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time, according to a report posted on the Washington Post's website Thursday night.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. According to the report, it is established in 2007 and saw exponential growth in the past 6 years. The report quoted an internal document as saying the new tool was the most prolific contributor to the President's Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year. "NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM" as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.

The technology companies all participated knowingly in PRISM operations. They include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. PalTalk is said to have hosted significant traffic during the Arab upheavals in 2011 and in the ongoing Syrian conflict.

Another internet company, Dropbox, a cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as "coming soon."

The paper said the PRISM program appears to "resemble the most controversial of the warrantless surveillance orders issued by President George W. Bush after the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

Editor: Hou Qiang


In Hong Kong, ex-CIA man may not escape U.S. reach


Related Topics

Policemen stand opposite the Consulate of the United States in Hong Kong June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Policemen stand opposite the Consulate of the United States in Hong Kong June 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

Did NSA spy scheme whistleblower flee to the right place? (02:29)

By David Ingram and James Pomfret

WASHINGTON/HONG KONG | Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:33am EDT


Edward Snowden's decision to flee to Hong Kong as he prepared to expose the U.S. government's secret surveillance programs may not save him from prosecution due to an extradition treaty in force since 1998.

A 29-year-old former CIA employee, Snowden has identified himself as the person who gave the Guardian and the Washington Post classified documents about how the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) obtained data from U.S. telecom and Internet companies.

While preparing his leaks, Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong on May 20 so he would be in a place that might be able to resist U.S. prosecution attempts, he told the Guardian.

"Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech but the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, making their views known," Snowden, a U.S. citizen, said in a video interview posted on the Guardian's website.

The NSA has requested a criminal probe into the leaks and, on Sunday, the U.S. Justice Department said it was in the initial stages of a criminal investigation.

The United States and Hong Kong signed their extradition treaty in 1996, a year before the former British colony was returned to China. It allows for the exchange of criminal suspects in a formal process that may also involve the Chinese government.

The treaty went into force in 1998 and provides that Hong Kong authorities can hold Snowden for 60 days, following a U.S. request that includes probable cause, while Washington prepares a formal extradition request. Some lawyers with expertise in extraditions said it would be a challenge for Snowden to circumvent the treaty if the U.S. government decides to prosecute him.

"They're not going to put at risk their relationship with the U.S. over Mr. Snowden, and very few people have found that they have the clout to persuade another country to go out of their way for them," said Robert Anello, a New York lawyer who has handled extradition cases.

However, under Hong Kong's Fugitives Offenders Ordinance, Beijing can issue an "instruction" to the city's leader to take or not take action on extraditions where the interests of China "in matters of defense or foreign affairs would be significantly affected."

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule amid constitutional guarantees for a high degree of autonomy. China, however, has responsibility over defense and foreign affairs and has exerted considerable behind-the-scenes influence over the financial hub's political, financial, legal and academic spheres.

"We've never seen the Chinese government interfere in these sorts of decisions before," said Patricia Ho, a lawyer with Daly & Associates in Hong Kong, who has dealt extensively with refugees and asylum claims in the city.

The U.S. consulate in Hong Kong wouldn't comment when asked if an extradition claim would be made for Snowden. Nor would it confirm if he was still in the city. Hong Kong's Security Bureau and Justice Department also gave no immediate comment.


In March, a former equities research analyst, Trent Martin, was extradited from Hong Kong to New York to face charges of insider trading. He had been arrested in Hong Kong in December and has pleaded not guilty.

Other suspects were extradited for smuggling charges, suspicion of violating controls on military exports, investment fraud charges and the alleged sale of illegal prescription drugs, according to U.S. prosecutor statements at the time.

But Hong Kong has not agreed to every U.S. request for a prisoner transfer. In 2008, Hong Kong released without explanation an Iranian operative whom Washington had accused of trying to obtain embargoed airplane parts. Yousef Boushvash was in custody with a criminal complaint on file in New York, so his release angered U.S. officials.

Douglas McNabb, a Houston lawyer who specializes in extradition, said he was surprised to hear that Snowden had chosen Hong Kong as a safe haven given the existing treaty.

"Probable cause won't be hard," McNabb said. "This guy came out and said, 'I did it.' His best defense would probably be that this is a political case instead of a criminal one." The treaty prohibits extradition for political cases.

Another defense for Snowden, lawyers said, would be to argue a lack of "dual-criminality" - for a person to be extradited, the alleged act must be a crime in both countries. While that will be for a Hong Kong court to decide, it might be a long shot, Anello said. "My guess is they will be able to find a law in Hong Kong that is very similar" to the U.S. Espionage Act, he said.

It was not immediately clear whether Snowden had a lawyer.

Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department lawyer who represents whistleblowers, said she expected prosecutors would "try to indict him as soon as possible" with "voluminous" Espionage Act charges followed by Interpol warrants for his arrest. But she said Snowden fit the profile and legal definition of a whistleblower and should be entitled to protection under a federal law passed to protect people who reveal waste and abuse.

"He said very clearly in statements that he's given that he was doing this to serve a public purpose," Radack said.

Asked if he had a plan in place, Snowden told the Guardian: "The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me ... My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over Internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be."

(Additional reporting by David Ingram, Mark Hosenball, John Shiffman, Joseph Ax, Andrew Longstreth and Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ian Geoghegan)


NSA leak prompts questions over U.S. reliance on contractors

By Deborah Charles and Ben Berkowitz

Mon Jun 10, 2013 7:01pm EDT


The U.S. government may have to reconsider how much it relies on outside defense contractors who are given top security clearances after an NSA contractor exposed top-secret phone and internet surveillance programs.

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old systems technician at Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp, admitted on Sunday that he divulged details of the National Security Agency's programs to The Guardian and Washington Post.

Booz shares fell 2.6 percent on Monday, and peers such as SAIC and General Dynamics fell as much as 1.7 percent.

"We do need to take another, closer look at how we control information and how good we are at identifying what people are doing with that information," said Stewart Baker, former general counsel at the NSA and former assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

Baker said Snowden's leaks show the need for the government to tighten up what can be seen by contractors, as well as government employees.

"Are we challenging him, are we auditing him? Are we taking measures to be sure he doesn't have wide-ranging access to stuff that is not relevant to him?" Baker said of a theoretical contractor with wide-ranging access.

Companies like Booz became a cornerstone of the U.S. government's national security efforts after the September 11 attacks. With a massive ramp-up in security operations came the need for organizations that could move quickly to implement new rules, regulations and screening protocols.

But that did not always go smoothly. A notorious example is the company formerly known as Blackwater, which agreed last summer to pay fines for trying to operate in Sudan despite sanctions. The company had previously been a source of strained U.S.-Iraqi relations over shootings there.

The U.S. government spends more than $300 billion a year on services that are contracted out, according to Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog that investigates corruption and misconduct in government.

"The government workforce has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 to 40 years but we've supplemented that with a contractor workforce that has grown dramatically," he said.

More than 4.9 million people had government security clearances as of October 1, 2012, including about 1.4 million with "top secret" clearance, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Nearly 800,000 government employees had "top secret" clearances, versus 480,000 contractors; the remaining "top secret" holders were not broken down.

It is too early to say whether Snowden's disclosures will create momentum on Capitol Hill to review the use of contractors and security clearance policies.

"Whether someone is a contractor does not make them more likely to leak classified information," Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee said in a statement. "There are very good contractors in the intelligence community right now who serve their country honorably."


As of March 31, Booz employed 24,500 people, of whom 76 percent held security clearances and more than a quarter held top security clearances. According to its last quarterly report, 99 percent of Booz's revenue comes from contracts with U.S. government agencies or other federal contractors.

One senior insurance industry executive said an incident like this could affect a security contractor's future insurability, particularly given the weight insurers put on a company's reputation.

"In the brand and reputation market now, for future loss of revenue, there's now an industry that evaluates and ranks the reputations of entities," said Kevin Kalinich, a national managing director at Aon Risk Solutions.

"If you have a long-term high ranking, the recovery of your revenue is astronomically higher than for companies that have a poor brand and reputation ranking."

Booz declined comment. It said on Sunday that Snowden worked for the company in Hawaii for less than three months.

"News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm," Booz said in the statement. "We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter."

Security experts say the risks of a Snowden-type case grow as the number of clearances proliferates.

Many contractors come from the military or government, where they already had security clearance. Under current rules, someone with clearance can keep it when they move into the private sector as long as they are going to work on a government project that requires clearance.

"Are contractors a unique risk? No - Bradley Manning wasn't a contractor," said Paul Rosenzweig, a former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security.

Manning, the U.S. Army private first class charged with the biggest leak of classified files in the nation's history, is in the second week of his court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland.

"It's the people, it's not what their job title is," said Rosenzweig. "What does change the dynamic is the greater number of people overall - whether they're contractors or inside."

(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Writing by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Tiffany Wu, Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman)

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