Edward Snowden: In Hong Kong, ex-CIA man may not escape U.S. reach

U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from a video during an interview with the Guardian in his hotel
U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from a video during an interview with the Guardian in his hotel

Edward Snowden’s decision to flee to Hong Kong as he prepared to expose the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs may not save him from prosecution due to an extradition treaty in force since 1998.

A 29-year-old former CIA employee, Snowden has identified himself as the person who gave the Guardian and the Washington Post classified documents about how the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) obtained data from U.S. telecom and Internet companies.

While preparing his leaks, Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong on May 20 so he would be in a place that might be able to resist U.S. prosecution attempts, he told the Guardian.

“Mainland China does have significant restrictions on free speech but the people of Hong Kong have a long tradition of protesting in the streets, making their views known,” Snowden, a U.S. citizen, said in a video interview posted on the Guardian’s website.

The NSA has requested a criminal probe into the leaks and, on Sunday, the U.S. Justice Department said it was in the initial stages of a criminal investigation.

The United States and Hong Kong signed their extradition treaty in 1996, a year before the former British colony was returned to China. It allows for the exchange of criminal suspects in a formal process that may also involve the Chinese government.

The treaty went into force in 1998 and provides that Hong Kong authorities can hold Snowden for 60 days, following a U.S. request that includes probable cause, while Washington prepares a formal extradition request. Some lawyers with expertise in extraditions said it would be a challenge for Snowden to circumvent the treaty if the U.S. government decides to prosecute him.

“They’re not going to put at risk their relationship with the U.S. over Mr. Snowden, and very few people have found that they have the clout to persuade another country to go out of their way for them,” said Robert Anello, a New York lawyer who has handled extradition cases.

However, under Hong Kong’s Fugitives Offenders Ordinance, Beijing can issue an “instruction” to the city’s leader to take or not take action on extraditions where the interests of China “in matters of defense or foreign affairs would be significantly affected.”

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule amid constitutional guarantees for a high degree of autonomy. China, however, has responsibility over defense and foreign affairs and has exerted considerable behind-the-scenes influence over the financial hub’s political, financial, legal and academic spheres.

“We’ve never seen the Chinese government interfere in these sorts of decisions before,” said Patricia Ho, a lawyer with Daly & Associates in Hong Kong, who has dealt extensively with refugees and asylum claims in the city.

The U.S. consulate in Hong Kong wouldn’t comment when asked if an extradition claim would be made for Snowden. Nor would it confirm if he was still in the city. Hong Kong’s Security Bureau and Justice Department also gave no immediate comment.

PAST CASES

In March, a former equities research analyst, Trent Martin, was extradited from Hong Kong to New York to face charges of insider trading. He had been arrested in Hong Kong in December and has pleaded not guilty.

Other suspects were extradited for smuggling charges, suspicion of violating controls on military exports, investment fraud charges and the alleged sale of illegal prescription drugs, according to U.S. prosecutor statements at the time.

But Hong Kong has not agreed to every U.S. request for a prisoner transfer. In 2008, Hong Kong released without explanation an Iranian operative whom Washington had accused of trying to obtain embargoed airplane parts. Yousef Boushvash was in custody with a criminal complaint on file in New York, so his release angered U.S. officials.

Douglas McNabb, a Houston lawyer who specializes in extradition, said he was surprised to hear that Snowden had chosen Hong Kong as a safe haven given the existing treaty.

“Probable cause won’t be hard,” McNabb said. “This guy came out and said, ‘I did it.’ His best defense would probably be that this is a political case instead of a criminal one.” The treaty prohibits extradition for political cases.

Another defense for Snowden, lawyers said, would be to argue a lack of “dual-criminality” – for a person to be extradited, the alleged act must be a crime in both countries. While that will be for a Hong Kong court to decide, it might be a long shot, Anello said. “My guess is they will be able to find a law in Hong Kong that is very similar” to the U.S. Espionage Act, he said.

It was not immediately clear whether Snowden had a lawyer.

Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department lawyer who represents whistleblowers, said she expected prosecutors would “try to indict him as soon as possible” with “voluminous” Espionage Act charges followed by Interpol warrants for his arrest. But she said Snowden fit the profile and legal definition of a whistleblower and should be entitled to protection under a federal law passed to protect people who reveal waste and abuse.

“He said very clearly in statements that he’s given that he was doing this to serve a public purpose,” Radack said.

Asked if he had a plan in place, Snowden told the Guardian: “The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me … My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over Internet freedom. I have no idea what my future is going to be.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Is #JusticeForAvaLynn a case of bullying?

On Saturday, the hashtag #JusticeForAvaLynn became one of the trending topics on Twitter. Users circulated the above photo of 5-year-old AvaLynn, posted by her mother…

International

Terrorism could spread to US and Europe in…

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East,…

National

Ex-Bitcoin official to plead guilty to Silk Road…

Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem has reached a plea deal to resolve U.S. charges that he engaged in a scheme to sell over $1 million of…

International

China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…

Gossip

Joan Rivers on life support: Report

TMZ reports that comedian Joan Rivers has been placed on life support, "completely reliant on machines to stay alive." Rivers has been hospitalized since she…

Movies

What's new on Netflix in September

September has a supernatural theme for Netflix. UFO "documentaries" and the survivalist reality series "Doomsday Preppers" are among the new series coming to the online…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Wellbeing

VIDEO: Still not wearing sunscreen? You will after…

Sunscreen is possibly the most often repeated - and ignored - piece of skincare advice. But Thomas Leveritt took a different tactic. With a short…

Food

Twitter used to track down sources of food…

When Chicago health officials saw Twitter users complaining about local food poisoning episodes, they reached out on Twitter to those users and often ended up…

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…