By Jennifer Martinez - 06/12/13 07:17 PM EDT
The United States government has been hacking into computers in China and Hong Kong for years, former government contractor Edward Snowden told the South China Morning Post.
Snowden believes there are "hundreds" of NSA hacking targets based in Hong Kong and mainland China, and there are more than 61,000 hacking operations worldwide, according to the Post's report.
“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 told the Post.
Snowden's claims that the U.S. government is waging a hacking campaign against nonmilitary targets puts the administration in a difficult diplomatic spot with China.
Over the past year, administration officials have called on China to take steps to clamp down on hackers based within its borders that have launched cyberattacks against American companies. Computer security firm Mandiant released a report this February that said an elite military unit of Chinese hackers had breached the computer systems of more than 100 American companies.
Snowden told the Post he wanted to demonstrate "the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries."
“Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public," Snowden said.