U.S. charges NSA leaker Edward Snowden with espionage
This photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, in Hong Kong, Sunday, June 9, 2013. The man who told the world about the U.S. governments gigantic data grab also talked a lot about himself. Mostly through his own words, a picture of Edward Snowden is emerging: fresh-faced computer whiz, high school and Army dropout, independent thinker, trustee of official secrets. And leaker on the lam. (AP Photo/The Guardian) MANDATORY CREDIT
Federal prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs, and the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, according to U.S. officials.
Snowden was charged with espionage, theft and conversion of government property, the officials said.
The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, a jurisdiction where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered, and a district with a long track record of prosecuting cases with national security implications.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Snowden flew to Hong Kong last month after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii with a collection of highly classified documents that he acquired while working at the agency as a systems analyst.
The documents, some of which have been published in The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, detailed some of the most secret surveillance operations undertaken by the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as classified legal memos and court orders underpinning the programs in the United States.
The 29-year-old intelligence analyst revealed himself June 9 as the leaker in an interview with the Guardian, and said he went to Hong Kong because it provided him the “cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained.”
Snowden subsequently disappeared from public view; it is thought that he is still in the Chinese territory. Hong Kong has its own legislative and legal systems but ultimately answers to Beijing, under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
The leaks have sparked national and international debates about the secret powers of the NSA to infringe on the privacy of both Americans and foreigners. President Obama and other federal officials have said they welcome the opportunity to explain the importance of the programs and the safeguards they say are built into them. Skeptics, including some in Congress, have said the NSA has assumed power to soak up data about Americans that was never intended under the law.
There was never any doubt that the Justice Department would seek to prosecute Snowden for one of the most significant national security leaks in the country’s history. The Obama administration has shown a particular propensity to go after leakers and has launched more investigations that any previous administration.
Justice Department officials had already said that a criminal investigation of Snowden was under way and was being run out of the FBI’s Washington field office in conjunction with lawyers from the department’s National Security Division.