Edward Snowden -- the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor whose leaking of agency documents has set off a national debate over the proper limits of U.S. government surveillance -- has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property for disclosing classified information to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers, the New York Times website reports today (June 21, 2013).
The charges were filed under seal on June 14 and unsealed late today. American officials said they had asked authorities in Hong Kong -- where Snowden is believed to be hiding -- to detain him while an indictment and an extradition request were prepared.
The attempt to extradite Snowden may produce a lengthy legal battle whose outcome is uncertain, because the extradition treaty between the United States and Hong Kong includes an exception for political offenses, and Snowden could argue that his prosecution is political in nature.
Snowden -- who turned 30 today -- fled to Hong Kong last month, carrying four laptop computers, after leaving his job at the NSA's eavesdropping station in Hawaii. He has given hundreds of highly classified documents to The Guardian, the British newspaper, which has written a series of articles about the incredible amount of eavesdropping that the U.S. government conducts. Snowden said he did so -- even though he knew he was violating the law -- because he could not live, in good conscience, with Americans secretly being denied their freedom and their right of privacy.