Breaking news tonight from the Washington Post:

Federal prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs, and the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, according to U.S. officials.

Snowden was charged with espionage, theft and conversion of government property, the officials said.

The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, a jurisdiction where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered, and a district with a long track record in prosecuting cases with national security implications.

At issue in this case will be whether or not Hong Kong will agree to extradition.  While cooperation has been good in the past with Hong Kong, their treaty with the US makes exception for political offenses, a category for which espionage has often applied.

Also from the Washington Post:

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.

The treaty, however, has an exception for political offenses, and espionage has traditionally been treated as a political offense. Snowden’s defense team in Hong Kong is likely to invoke part of the extradition treaty with the United States, which states that suspects will not be turned over to face criminal trial for offenses of a “political character.”

Snowden could also remain in Hong Kong if the Chinese government decides that it is not in the defense or foreign policy interests of the government in Beijing to have him sent back to the United States for trial.

Snowden could also apply for asylum in Hong Kong, or attempt to reach another jurisdiction and seek asylum there before the authorities in Hong Kong act.

UPDATED 6/21/2013 at 8:30pm EST:  Initial complaint, now unsealed, added.  Remainder of case remains sealed.

U.S. v. Snowden PACER case sealed

U.S. v. Edward Snowden Criminal Complaint


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