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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Obama Administration Charges NSA Leaker With Espionage And Theft Of Government Property

By Susan Duclos

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden has been formally charged with espionage and theft of government property, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Virginia on Friday.

Read-U.S. vs. Edward J. Snowden criminal complaint

Via CNN:

The United States has asked Hong Kong, where Snowden is believed to be in hiding, to detain the former National Security Agency contract analyst on a provisional arrest warrant, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

The complaint charges Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person. The latter two allegations amount to espionage under the federal Espionage Act.

Snowden, 30, has admitted in interviews he was the source behind the leak of classified documents about the NSA's surveillance programs. Those leaks were the basis of reports in Britain's Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post this month. The Guardian revealed Snowden's identify at his request.

The documents revealed the existence of top-secret surveillance programs that collect records of domestic telephone calls in the United States and monitor the Internet activity of overseas residents.
The revelation rocked the Obama administration and U.S. intelligence community, raising questions about secret operations of the NSA and whether the agency was infringing on American civil liberties.

Obama, top legislators and national security officials defend the surveillance programs as necessary to combat terrorism and argue that some privacy must be sacrificed in a balanced approach.

They say the law allows collection of metadata, such as the time and numbers of phone calls, and that a special federal court must approve accessing the content -- listening to the call itself.
Emphasis mine.

NSA procedural documents revealed by Snowden just this past week, contradict the assertion that it requires a special court order to access the content of a call.

"In the absence of specific information regarding whether a target is a United States person," it states "a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person unless such person can be positively identified as a United States person."

If it later appears that a target is in fact located in the US, analysts are permitted to look at the content of messages, or listen to phone calls, to establish if this is indeed the case.
But I digress.....

The Washington Post details Snowden's, the Obama administration's and Hong Kong's options:

By filing a criminal complaint, prosecutors have a legal basis to make the detention request of the authorities in Hong Kong. Prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment, probably under seal, and can then move to have Snowden extradited from Hong Kong for trial in the United States.

Snowden, however, can fight the extradition effort in the courts in Hong Kong. Any battle is likely to reach Hong Kong’s highest court and could last many months, lawyers in the United States 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.
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's other options include leaving Hong Kong and applying for asylum in another country.

Reuters reports that an Icelandic businessman has a plane ready and waiting to take Snowden to Iceland if the government will offer him asylum.

"We have made everything ready at our end now we only have to wait for confirmation from the (Icelandic) Interior Ministry," Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson told Reuters. He is a former director of DataCell, a company which processed payments for WikiLeaks.

"A private jet is in place in China and we could fly Snowden over tomorrow if we get positive reaction from the Interior Ministry. We need to get confirmation of asylum and that he will not be extradited to the U.S. We would most want him to get a citizenship as well," Sigurvinsson said.

Sigurvinsson isn't the only one in Iceland working towards offering Snowden a safe haven, according to The Guardian, which first revealed the NSA's top-secret programs:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Icelandic MP and open information campaigner who was centrally involved in the WikiLeaks disclosures, said she was lobbying Iceland's immigration services and interior ministry about possible asylum for Snowden. But she added the process would only seriously get under way once the NSA whistleblower made clear his intentions.

"This can't be processed until we hear from Snowden himself. We need to know exactly what he wants to do."

Speaking to the Guardian from San Francisco, Jónsdóttir said other members of her Pirate party would be raising the asylum issue in speeches to the newly formed Icelandic parliament. "I'm encouraging politicians not just in my own party to come forward and support Edward Snowden because he has done humanity a great service," Jónsdóttir said.

"It's high time the US government recognised that this culture of information gathering and surveillance cannot be sustained - the people won't accept it."

Snowden would have to arrive on Icelandic soil or at one of its embassies to claim asylum, but would have popular support in Iceland, said McCarthy. "Everywhere in the Icelandic media today we are seeing that support, with people thinking that Snowden is deserving of Iceland's protection."

The Weekly Standard reports that  Ecuador may also be willing to offer Snowden asylum:

"Mr. Snowden may ask the Ecuadorian government for asylum, if he wants, and of course we will examine his request, as we did with Assange (WikiLeaks founder)," Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino was quoted by local media as saying.
Ecuador "is firmly committed to protecting human rights," said Patino, adding that the WikiLeaks founder, who was granted asylum by Ecuador last June but has been holed up at its embassy in Britain, is prepared to stay at Ecuador's embassy in Britain for five years.
Snowden, 29, exposed the NSA's global spying program, which collects and analyzes Internet data from around the world. The United States has launched a criminal investigation into the disclosure.
Iceland isn't the only country seeing a groundswell of support for Snowden as evidenced by a petition placed on the White House website to pardon Edward Snowden, referring to him as a "national hero," and has already garnered over 100, 700 signatures.

According to the terms of petition at The White House, 100,000 signatures within 30 days is the minimum threshold for a response.

Screenshot via Business Insider

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter that has been working with Snowden to expose the NSA secret domestic spying programs, asks "Who is actually bringing 'injury to America': those who are secretly building a massive surveillance system or those who inform citizens that it's being done?"

Full Wake up America NSA scandal coverage found here.