WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called whistleblower Edward Snowden “a hero” and says he has been in indirect contact with the ex-CIA employee who exposed a vast US surveillance programme.
Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for nearly a year after claiming asylum, urged nations around the world to offer a similar safe haven to the 29-year-old.
Assange said he and other journalists and civil libertarians had been complaining about secret Internet spying for a long time, “so it is very pleasing to see such clear and concrete proof presented to the public”.
Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant, is believed to be in Hong Kong after disclosing his identity in a video interview from the southern Chinese city posted on the website of The Guardian newspaper.
He chose Hong Kong as a refuge because of its “strong tradition of free speech” but US lawmakers have demanded his immediate extradition.
Former computer hacker Assange said Snowden was in a “very, very serious position” and urged countries to come forward with offers of asylum.
In a separate interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Assange, who rose to fame after WikiLeaks released thousands of secret military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and classified US State Department cables, said he had been in touch with Snowden.
The US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has described Snowden’s leaks as gravely damaging to US security and referred the matter to the Justice Department, which has launched an investigation.
Under the PRISM programme he revealed, the US National Security Agency can issue directives to Internet firms such as Google or Facebook to gain access to emails, online chats, pictures, files, videos and more, uploaded by foreign users.