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US launches bid to return Snowden for espionage trial

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Peter Finn, Sari Horwitz

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Prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs.

The US has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, US officials said.

Mr 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 Mr Snowden's former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, has its headquarters.

The district has a long track record of prosecuting cases with national security implications.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr Snowden flew to Hong Kong last month after leaving his job at an NSA facility in Hawaii with a collection of highly classified documents that he acquired while working at the agency as a systems analyst.

The documents, some of which have been published in The Washington Post and Britain's The Guardian, detail some of the most secret surveillance operations undertaken by the US and Britain, plus classified legal memos and court orders underpinning the programs in the US.

The 29-year-old intelligence analyst revealed himself on June 9 as the leaker in an interview with The Guardian and said he went to Hong Kong because it provided him the ''cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained''.

Mr Snowden subsequently disappeared from public view; it is thought that he is still in the Chinese territory.

Hong Kong has its own legislative and legal systems but ultimately answers to Beijing, under the ''one country, two systems'' arrangement.

The leaks have sparked national and international debates about the secret powers of the NSA to infringe on the privacy of Americans and foreigners.

US President Barack Obama and other federal officials have said they welcome the opportunity to explain the importance of the programs and the safeguards they say are built into them.

Sceptics, including some in Congress, have said the NSA has assumed power to soak up data about Americans that was never intended under the law.

There was never any doubt that the Justice Department would seek to prosecute Mr Snowden for one of the most significant national security leaks in the country's history.

The Obama administration has shown a particular propensity to go after leakers and has launched more investigations that any previous administration. Justice Department officials had already said that a criminal investigation of Mr Snowden was under way and was being run out of the FBI's Washington field office in conjunction with lawyers from the department's National Security Division.

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 Mr Snowden extradited from Hong Kong for trial in the US.

Washington Post

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