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WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency contractor who revealed the U.S. government's top-secret monitoring of phone and Internet data says he intends to stay in Hong Kong and fight any effort to bring him back to the United States to face charges.
"I am neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," Edward Snowden declared to the South China Morning Post about his disclosures of top-secret surveillance programs that have rocked Washington. His exact location wasn't disclosed.
"I am not here to hide from justice. I am here to reveal criminality," he told the English-language Hong Kong newspaper.
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Snowden went on during the interview published Wednesday to assert the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and in mainland China since 2009, with targets including public officials, businesses and students in the city as well as the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"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," Snowden said. The NSA declined to comment on Snowden's assertions.
Snowden, 29, said that he hasn't dared contact his family or his girlfriend since coming forward as the leaker of NSA documents. "I am worried about the pressure they are feeling from the FBI," he said.
He resurfaced in the Chinese newspaper after having dropped out of sight since Sunday. Snowden said he has faith in "the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."
Snowden said he wanted to fight the U.S. government in Hong Kong's courts and would stay unless "asked to leave." Hong Kong is a Chinese autonomous region that maintains a Western-style legal system and freedom of speech.
U.S. law enforcement officials have said they are building a case against Snowden but have yet to bring charges. Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the United States; there are exceptions in cases of political persecution or where there are concerns over cruel or humiliating treatment.
Snowden said he believed the United States is "now bullying the Hong Kong government to prevent me from continuing my work."