US government files espionage charges against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

US government files espionage charges against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Update: Matthew Keys says that the criminal complaint against Snowden was filed a week ago. We’ve embedded the complaint below.

The United States government has filed a sealed complaint against former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor to the NSA Edward Snowden with espionage. As reported by The Washington Post, US officials have asked their Hong Kong counterparts to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant. Besides espionage, the charges against Snowden include theft and conversion of government property.

Filed in the Eastern District of Virginia which has jurisdiction over the headquarters of Booz Allen Hamilton, today’s complaint is the first major act by the United States against Snowden. It was two weeks ago when news broke thanks to the NSA contractor that revealed the government’s surveillance program called PRISM that was examining digital records of those on the Internet.

It’s not surprising that the US filed charges against Snowden. The Washington Post says that the Justice Department has already begun a criminal investigation against him and that it was being run by the FBI’s Washington field office along with lawyers from the NSA.

The US and Hong Kong have an extradition treaty in place, although Snowden can contest it in court. Prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment and seek to have him returned back to the US. Of course, nothing is set in stone as Snowden will most likely contest the charges and the order. Things will not be easy for the US as the case could wind up in Hong Kong’s highest court.

Hong Kong, while part of China, but yet administered by a separate government, has said that it will follow existing laws if and when the US requests help. The region’s chief executive said in a statement to The Washington Post:

When the relevant mechanism is activated, the Hong Kong [Special Administrative Region] Government will handle the case of Mr. Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong.

Snowden has said in the past that he would like to make his way to Iceland as the country leans more favorably on his situation. However, in an interview with The Guardian last week, he said that most likely his trip wouldn’t happen — he fears that he could be intercepted en route and renditioned.

He remains adamant that the truth has come out and that the US government wouldn’t do anything to him: “The US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. [The] Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

PRISM is the NSA’s Internet monitoring initiative that was revealed earlier this month. It was revealed that technology companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Microsoft were participating with the government to spy on the public. Of course soon after news broke, all named Internet companies denied the claims against them and promised that they would be releasing government data requests in the form of quarterly transparency reports.

Earlier this week, NSA chief General Keith Alexander testified in front of the US House Intelligence Committee that its surveillance program prevented 10 terrorism plots in the US, along with 50 worldwide.

Snowden has not addressed the charges against him.

Photo credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Hat tip to Matthew Keys

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