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US whistleblower Snowden charged with espionage for leaking secret documents

The former government contractor revealed that the NSA collects Americans’ phone records and internet data from US companies.

Image: (AP Photo/The Guardian)

EDWARD SNOWDEN, THE former government contractor who says he revealed that the National Security Agency collects Americans’ phone records and Internet data from US communication companies, now faces charges of espionage and theft of government property.

Snowden is believed to be in Hong Kong, which could complicate efforts to bring him to a US federal court to answer charges that he engaged in unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information.

In addition to those charges, both brought under the Espionage Act, the government charged Snowden with theft of government property. Each crime carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

A security guard stands in front of the police headquarters in Hong Kong today where former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is believed to be holed up. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The one-page criminal complaint against Snowden was unsealed Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, part of the Eastern District of Virginia where his former employer, government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered, in McLean.

The complaint is dated June 14, five days after Snowden’s name first surfaced as the person who had leaked to the news media that the NSA, in two highly classified surveillance programs, gathered telephone and Internet records to ferret out terror plots.

It was unclear Friday whether the US had yet to begin an effort to extradite Snowden from Hong Kong. He could contest extradition on grounds of political persecution. In general, the extradition agreement between the U.S. and Hong Kong excepts political offenses from the obligation to turn over a person.

Hong Kong had no immediate reaction to word of the charges against Snowden.

- AFP

Related: You’re fired: US surveillance whistleblower sacked by his employer>

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