WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Rogue ex-contractor Edward Snowden may be cooperating with the Chinese government, U.S. lawmakers briefed on National Security Agency surveillance programs say.
Other U.S. officials expressed concern the 29-year-old computer whiz may try to defect to China with a trove of top-secret U.S. information, ABC News reported.
None of the officials presented evidence to support their allegations.
“Clearly, we’re going to make sure that there’s a thorough scrub of what his China connections are,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said of Snowden after a 3-hour closed-door session with NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander about the two NSA programs Snowden leaked information about to British newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post last week.
Alexander, who is also commander of U.S. Cyber Command, defended the phone-record surveillance program.
“This is not a program where we are out freewheeling it,” he said. “It is a well-overseen and a very focused program.”
He said the NSA was working to declassify details of the program’s effectiveness.
Public officials “owe the American people … some statistics,” he told reporters.
He and lawmakers pledged to release information about thwarted terrorist attacks in the next week or so to prove the value of the agency’s sweeping surveillance tactics.
Concerning Snowden, last reported in Hong Kong, Rogers said, “We need to ask a lot more questions about his motives, his connections, where he ended up, why he is there, how is he sustaining himself while he is there, and is the Chinese government fully cooperating.”
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said, “He chose to go to China, a country that’s cyberattacking us every single day, taking billions of dollars of American business data.”
U.S. officials allege Beijing engages in cyberspying against U.S. corporations. Officials have complained repeatedly about this to their counterparts in China.
China’s Foreign Ministry repeated to The Wall Street Journal Thursday China is a hacking victim, not a hacking perpetrator.
ABC News reported senior U.S. intelligence officials feared Snowden may try to defect to China.
“I think there is a real concern about that,” an official told the network Thursday. It’s a “very legitimate” worry, a law enforcement official said.
Snowden told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post Wednesday he believed more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations operated globally, including hundreds in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland.
The Post detailed the alleged Hong Kong and China hacking Friday.
The records it cited showed dates and domain names of computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland allegedly hacked by the NSA over four years, the newspaper said.
The FBI has said it has launched a criminal probe against Snowden and is taking “all necessary steps” to prosecute him for exposing secret U.S. surveillance programs.
“These disclosures have caused significant harm to our nation and to our safety. We are taking all necessary steps to hold the person responsible for these disclosures,” FBI Director Robert Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.
Snowden’s supporters argue his actions opened up a much-needed debate on the balance between security and privacy in the modern world.
The Guardian reported Snowden took four laptops filled with secrets with him when he fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii last month.