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January 31, 2015

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national security:

U.S. charges NSA leaker Edward Snowden with espionage, theft


Associated Press

This image made available by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows an undated image of Edward Snowden, 29. Snowden worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency and is the source of The Guardian’s disclosures about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs, as the British newspaper reported Sunday, June 9, 2013.

Updated Friday, June 21, 2013 | 10:10 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has charged former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with espionage and theft of government property in the NSA surveillance case.

Snowden, believed to be holed up in Hong Kong, has admitted providing information to the news media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programs.

A one-page criminal complaint unsealed Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., says Snowden engaged in unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information. Both are charges under the Espionage Act. Snowden also is charged with theft of government property. All three crimes carry a maximum 10-year prison penalty.

The federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia where the complaint was filed is headquarters for Snowden's former employer, government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

The complaint is dated June 14, five days after Snowden's name first surfaced as the leaker of information about the two programs in which the NSA gathered telephone and Internet records to ferret out terror plots.

The complaint could become an integral part of a U.S. government effort to have Snowden extradited from Hong Kong, a process that could turn into a prolonged legal battle. Snowden could contest extradition on grounds of political persecution. In general, the extradition agreement between the U.S. and Hong Kong excepts political offenses from the obligation to turn over a person.

It was unclear late Friday whether the U.S. had made an extradition request. On Saturday, Hong Kong legislators said the Chinese government should make the final decision on whether Snowden should be extradited to the United States.

Outspoken legislator Leung Kwok-hung said Beijing should instruct Hong Kong to protect Snowden from extradition before his case gets dragged through the court system. Leung also urged the people of Hong Kong to "take to the streets to protect Snowden." The charges against Snowden were first reported by The Washington Post.

The Espionage Act arguably is a political offense. The Obama administration has now used the act in seven criminal cases in an unprecedented effort to stem leaks. In one of them, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning acknowledged he sent more than 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and other materials to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. His military trial is on-going.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the charges against Snowden. "I've always thought this was a treasonous act," he said in a statement. "I hope Hong Kong's government will take him into custody and extradite him to the U.S."

But the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy organization, said Snowden should be shielded from prosecution by whistle-blower protection laws. "He disclosed information about a secret program that he reasonably believed to be illegal, and his actions alone brought about the long-overdue national debate about the proper balance between privacy and civil liberties, on the one hand, and national security on the other," the group said in a statement.

Michael di Pretoro, a retired 30-year veteran with the FBI who served from 1990 to 1994 as the legal liaison officer at the American consulate in Hong Kong, said "relations between U.S. and Hong Kong law enforcement personnel are historically quite good."

"In my time, I felt the degree of cooperation was outstanding to the extent that I almost felt I was in an FBI field office," said di Pretoro.

The U.S. and Hong Kong have a standing agreement on the surrender of fugitives. However, Snowden's appeal rights could drag out any extradition proceeding.

The success or failure of any extradition proceeding depends on what the suspect is charged with under U.S. law and how it corresponds to Hong Kong law under the treaty. In order for Hong Kong officials to honor the extradition request, they have to have some applicable statute under their law that corresponds with a violation of U.S. law.

In Iceland, a business executive said Friday that a private plane was on standby to transport Snowden from Hong Kong to Iceland, although Iceland's government says it has not received an asylum request from Snowden.

Business executive Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson said he has been in contact with someone representing Snowden and has not spoken to the American himself. Private donations are being collected to pay for the flight, he said.

"There are a number of people that are interested in freedom of speech and recognize the importance of knowing who is spying on us," Sigurvinsson said. "We are people that care about privacy."

Disclosure of the criminal complaint came as President Barack Obama held his first meeting with a privacy and civil liberties board as his intelligence chief sought ways to help Americans understand more about sweeping government surveillance efforts exposed by Snowden.

The five members of the little-known Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board met with Obama for an hour in the White House Situation Room, questioning the president on the two NSA programs that have stoked controversy.

One program collects billions of U.S. phone records. The second gathers audio, video, email, photographic and Internet search usage of foreign nationals overseas, and probably some Americans in the process, who use major providers such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.

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  1. Let me get this straight...

    He is being charged with spying for revealing secret unchecked/unconstitutional spying.

    The irony is thick here.

  2. "The irony is thick here."

    702anon -- more like heavy-handed hypocrisy!

    "If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin." -- Samuel Adams

  3. The Obama administration is certainly quick in going after Edward Snowden. It is a pity the same administration can't be Johnny on the Spot when it comes to reining in its obscene overspending.
    Mr. Snowden has done America and the world a great favour by shining the light on this data collection industry by the American government.
    Now other countries, such as Canada, are grilling their own governments to ensure that they too are not treating their own citizens as potential enemies deserving no rights of privacy.
    The kid is only 29. Rather than spend his life on the run or in hiding somewhere, I wish he'd voluntarily return to America and face the music there. If I were a juror, I would hand him a small fine and a suspended sentence while at the same time wishing that the legal system permitted me to give Mr. Snowden a reward for bravery and patriotism.

    Donald W. Desaulniers

  4. I hear it's beautiful in Reykjavik this time of year...

    Perhaps Snowden & Assange can get a package deal, do some fishing in that neck of the woods.

    Snowden & Bradley Manning...
    Hero's, traitors, a little bit of both? Clearly, they both found themselves in uncomfortable situations in their careers/lives & decided to use a very unconventional route to 'free themselves' from their untenable positions

    When the movie version of the Snowden Affair comes out, the dude who played Danny Messer on CSI; New York would be perfect for the part.

    The line between hero and villain can be very murky.

  5. When he signed his Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement he knew what the rules were and what laws he would be violating upon unauthorized disclosure. I have signed many of them throughout my time in the military. It was never up to him to determine if he should have disclosed this information. I hope he enjoys his time in prison.

  6. Snowden knew the consequences of his actions or he wouldn't have fled to Hong Kong (where a visa isn't required) and he'd still be in Hawaii.

    He's not likely to find a safe haven there for very long.

  7. "When he signed his Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement he knew what the rules were and what laws he would be violating upon unauthorized disclosure."

    Retired -- yet those officials and officers who take their oaths to support, protect and defend the Constitution get to violate those oaths with impunity? You seem blind to who has the greater duty -- those who violated the Bill of Rights are the ones who really need to be disgraced then imprisoned.

    "Indifference to personal liberty is but the precursor of the State's hostility to it." -- United States v. Penn, 647 F.2d 876 (9th Circuit, 1980), Judge Kennedy dissenting