In a sealed criminal complaint announced late Friday, federal prosecutors have charged Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a documents about the top-secret Prism surveillance programs, with espionage, theft and conversion of government property. The US government is asking the government of Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant. The sealed complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Booz Allen Hamilton, his former employer, is based. The district has a history of prosecuting national security cases.
By filing a criminal complaint, prosecutors have a legal basis to make the request of the authorities in Hong Kong. Prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment, probably also under seal, and can then move to have Snowden extradited from Hong Kong for trial in the United States.
Snowden, however, can fight the U.S. effort to have him extradited in the courts in Hong Kong. Any court battle is likely to reach Hong Kong’s highest court, and could last many months, lawyers in the U.S. and Hong Kong said.
The United States has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and U.S. officials said cooperation with the Chinese territory, which enjoys some autonomy from Beijing, has been good in previous cases.