Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency computer technician who has acknowledged leaking highly classified documents about the United States government's monitoring of Internet and telephone communications, told a Hong Kong newspaper on Wednesday that he plans to stay in the city and fight extradition.
"People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions," he told the newspaper, The South China Morning Post. "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality."
He also said that the United States' surveillance program had gained access to hundreds of computers in Hong Kong and China since 2009. "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," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
The newspaper did not say where in Hong Kong Mr. Snowden has been hiding since he checked out of a hotel early Monday afternoon. The Guardian newspaper of Britain, with which Mr. Snowden has shared a series of documents, reported Wednesday morning that he had moved to a safe house, but did not provide details.
Mr. Snowden's decision to stay in Hong Kong came as a person with knowledge of the Hong Kong government's work on the case said local government lawyers, working with United States government lawyers, had identified 36 offenses with which Mr. Snowden could be charged under both Hong Kong and American laws.
(Read More: Booz Allen Says It's Fired Leaker Edward Snowden)
The United States and Hong Kong operate under a 1996 bilateral extradition agreement, and any attempt by the United States to extradite Mr. Snowden would have to cite offenses that violate the laws in both countries, are punishable by jail terms of a year or more and meet the terms of that agreement. One of the 36 offenses involves the release of official secrets, which is illegal in Hong Kong and the United States, said the person familiar with Hong Kong government efforts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate legal and diplomatic aspects of the case.
Mr. Snowden could delay extradition proceedings by requesting political asylum in Hong Kong. But he will almost certainly be taken into custody and jailed as soon as he files for asylum, because he would no longer qualify as a visitor to Hong Kong, the person said.
Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive of Hong Kong, said on an official visit to New York on Tuesday that his government would not discuss Mr. Snowden's case. "We have existing laws and policies; otherwise we can't comment on individual cases," he said, according to an official transcript released here.