NSA leaker Edward Snowden charged with espionage; extradition sought


Federal prosecutors filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking classified information exposing a controversial electronic surveillance program in the United States.

Espionage and theft of government property charges have been filed. The filing also seeks Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong, where Snowden is believed to be located.

Federal authorities unsealed part of the complaint as a result of media reports Friday. The charges are formally listed as theft of government property; unauthorized communication of national defense information; and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.

The criminal complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Further details remained under seal Friday afternoon. The charges were filed on June 14.

Snowden, a 29-year-old former contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong after leaking to The Guardian that the U.S. government had collected phone records of millions of Verizon customers. He also gave information to the Washington Post.

The U.S. and Hong Kong have an extradition treaty, but China could refuse to hand over Snowden if they believe the request is politically motivated.

"If they want to get you, they will get you in time," said Snowden this month in an interview. "That's a fear I will live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.

"I have had many opportunities to flee [Hong Kong], but I would rather stay and fight the US government in the courts, because I have faith in [Hong Kong's] rule of law," said Snowden earlier this month.

Government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton says it fired Snowden, an employee of the firm for less than three months, for violating the company's code of ethics.

Snowden dropped out of high school and joined the Army, but failed in his attempt to become a Special Forces soldier. He got a job as an NSA security guard, followed by a leap to a CIA job in Switzerland. He then spent four years as a contractor, working with computers at the NSA in Japan, Washington and Hawaii, where he disappeared from his job early last month, claiming medical leave for epilepsy. He "blew the whistle" on what he calls the abuses of the privacy rights of Americans.

Surveillance programs foiled more than 50 terrorist plots worldwide since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the director of the National Security Agency said this week.

In addition to the surveillance program revelations, according to a report in the Guardian, British agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into diplomats' phones and emails when the U.K. hosted the 2009 G-20 summit in London.

The Guardian cites several internal government documents provided by Snowden as the basis for these new allegations. The documents also reportedly show that the NSA tried to eavesdrop on Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev as he telephoned back to Moscow via satellite. The NSA is the GCHQ sister organization in the U.S.

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