Edward J Snowden,the former National Security Agency contractor whose leak of agency documents has set off a national debate over the proper limits of government surveillance,has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property for disclosing classified information to The Guardian and The Washington Post,the Justice Department said on Friday.
Each of the three charges unsealed on Friday carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years,for a total of 30 years. But Snowden is likely to be indicted,and additional counts may well be added. In addition to the theft charge,the two charges under the Espionage Act include unauthorized communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person. Communications intelligence is the technical term for eavesdropping and other electronic intercepts.
The charges were filed on June 14 by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia.
The extradition treaty between the US and Hong Kong includes an exception for political offenses,and Snowden could argue that his prosecution is political in nature.
Hong Kong has limited autonomy,but matters involving national security and foreign policy are controlled by the Chinese government in Beijing. Regina Ip,a former Hong Kong secretary of security and a current legislator,said Saturday Hong Kong authorities had no choice but to comply with an arrest warrant and our police will go and find Snowden.
However,Ip said,Snowden could delay any extradition by claiming his is a political offence,or he could apply for asylum,and those cases can take 10 years.
Last week,hundreds of people protested outside the US Consulate demanding that officials not cooperate with any US extradition request. Global Times,a newspaper controlled by Communist Party,called an extradition of Snowden an inconceivable option in a recent commentary.