Federal authorities have charged a former defense contractor with
espionage and theft in connection with the disclosure of details about
two secret surveillance programs managed by the National Security
Agency, a government official confirmed Friday.
The official, who
is not authorized to comment publicly, confirmed that the charges
against Edward Snowden were filed in a sealed complaint released late
today and that authorities were seeking the cooperation of Hong Kong
officials to assist in his detention.
The charges against Snowden were first reported Friday by The Washington Post.
Snowden, who turned 30 on Friday, has been the focus of a criminal investigation since he acknowledged to the Post and the Guardian
newspapers earlier this month that he was the source of materials
detailing surveillance programs that collected telephone records for
millions of Americans and a separate operation that targeted the
Internet communications of non-citizens abroad who were suspected of
The news came hours after the Guardian reported that Britain's GCHQ
spy agency had secretly tapped into the fiber-optic cables that carry
the world's phone calls and Internet traffic and is sharing information
with the NSA.
Snowden, who was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton
as an NSA systems analyst in Hawaii, fled to the Chinese territory last
month with top-secret documents and court orders on government
The one-page complaint -- marked "UNDER SEAL" -- was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, which the Post said has "a long track record in prosecuting cases with national security implications."
formal charges, which were filed June 14, are unauthorized
communication of national defense information; willful communication of
classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized
person; and theft of government property.
The espionage charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.
The United States has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and Snowden could fight extradition if he is arrested. But, as the Post
pointed out, the treaty has an exception for political offenses, and
espionage "has traditionally been treated as a political offense."
The Post writes:
defense team in Hong Kong is likely to invoke part of the extradition
treaty with the United States, which states that suspects will not be
turned over to face criminal trial for offenses of a "political
Snowden could also remain in Hong
Kong if the Chinese government decides that it is not in the defense or
foreign policy interests of the government in Beijing to have him sent
back to the United States for trial.
could also apply for asylum in Hong Kong or attempt to reach another
jurisdiction and seek asylum there before the authorities in Hong Kong
Snowden told the Guardian that Hong Kong provided him the "cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained."
British returned the former colony to China in 1997. Although it has
own legal system, Hong Kong ultimately answers to the national
leadership in Beijing.
On Wednesday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that his organization was helping Snowden to try to broker asylum in Iceland because of the country's values, including protecting Internet freedom.
he to apply for asylum in Hong Kong, Snowden would not be given
preferential treatment, an official with the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees told the South China Morning Post.
Kong's government and residents have been unsettled by Snowden's claims
that since 2009 the NSA has been attacking computers belonging to Hong
Kong officials, universities, businesses and students.
turned out to protest the alleged surveillance, which the territory's
leaders said last week they would be investigated.
government will follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or
other rights of institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated,"
said C.Y. Leung, Hong Kong's chief executive.
Michael Winter, USA TODAY