Snowden 'vows to stay in Hong Kong and make more disclosures'

HONG KONG (AFP) - American whistleblower Edward Snowden on Wednesday vowed to stay in Hong Kong to fight any extradition bid, and promised new revelations about US surveillance targets, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

"I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American," the Hong Kong newspaper's website quoted him as saying in an exclusive interview.

The SCMP, in a teaser posted online before it publishes the full interview, said the former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) would offer "more explosive details on US surveillance targets".

Mr Snowden would also discuss his fears for his family and his immediate plans, the newspaper said, after it interviewed the 29-year-old former CIA analyst earlier on Wednesday at a secret location in Hong Kong.

"People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality," it quoted him as saying.

Mr Snowden vowed to fight any extradition attempt by the US government, the newspaper said, after he came to Hong Kong on May 20 and leaked a global eavesdropping operation by the NSA to the Guardian and the Washington Post.

"My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate. I have been given no reason to doubt your system," he said.

Many lawmakers in Washington are up in arms after Mr Snowden leaked the NSA's monitoring of private users' Web traffic and phone records, in a worldwide trawl that the White House said was needed to keep Americans safe from terror.

Criminal investigations are underway, but so far the United States has not filed a formal extradition request to Hong Kong, a former British colony that retained its separate legal system when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Ultimately, Beijing retains control over defence and foreign affairs - and can veto extradition rulings made by Hong Kong's courts.

Hong Kong press reports said Mr Snowden was on the hunt for representation from prominent lawyers well-versed in human rights and asylum cases. He won support from the city's feisty pro-democracy movement, with a demonstration in the works for Saturday. Organisers said the protesters, set to include Hong Kong lawmakers, would march first to the US consulate and then government headquarters.

"We should protect him. We are calling on the HK government to defend freedom of speech," Mr Tom Grundy, a spokesman for the organisers, told AFP Wednesday.

"We don't know what law he may or may not have broken but if Beijing has a final say, they don't have to extradite him if he is a political dissident," he said.

A protracted battle over Mr Snowden's fate threatens to test new attempts to build Sino-US bridges as shown at a weekend summit in California between the nations' presidents, Mr Barack Obama and Mr Xi Jinping. The European Union has already expressed disquiet at the giant scale of the NSA operation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday said Mr Obama had signed an executive directive requiring protections for intelligence community whistleblowers who use "appropriate" channels - implicitly not leaks to newspapers as Mr Snowden did - to expose alleged wrongdoing.

But Mr Carney fended off all questions about Mr Snowden and declined to characterise his actions while investigations are under way. On Capitol Hill, the language was blunter.

The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr John Boehner, described Snowden's leaks as a "giant" violation of law.

"He's a traitor," Mr Boehner told ABC News in an interview. "The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are."