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U.S. to Hong Kong: Don't delay Snowden extradition

By Julie Pace & Pete Yost

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:39 p.m. HST, Jun 22, 2013

WASHINGTON  » The Obama administration sharply warned Hong Kong against slow-walking the extradition of Edward Snowden, reflecting concerns over a prolonged legal battle before the government contractor ever appears in a U.S. courtroom to answer espionage charges for revealing two highly classified surveillance programs.

A formal extradition request to bring Snowden to the United States from Hong Kong could drag through appeal courts for years and would pit Beijing against Washington at a time China tries to deflect U.S. accusations that it carries out extensive surveillance on American government and commercial operations.

The U.S. has contacted authorities in Hong Kong to seek Snowden's extradition, the National Security Council said today in a statement. The NSC advises the president on national security.

"Hong Kong has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters, and we expect them to comply with the treaty in this case," White House national security adviser Tom Donilon said in an interview with CBS News. He said the U.S. presented Hong Kong with a "good case for extradition."

However, a senior administration official issued a pointed warning that if Hong Kong doesn't act soon, "it will complicate our bilateral relations and raise questions about Hong Kong's commitment to the rule of law." The official was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and insisted on anonymity.

Hong Kong's government had no immediate reaction to the charges against Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who admitted providing information to the news media about the programs. Police Commissioner Andy Tsang told reporters only that the case would be dealt with according to the law. A police statement said it was "inappropriate" for the police to comment on the case.

A one-page criminal complaint against Snowden was unsealed Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., part of the Eastern District of Virginia where his former employer, government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered, in McLean. He is charged with unauthorized communication of national defense information, willful communication of classified communications intelligence information and theft of government property. The first two are under the Espionage Act and each of the three crimes carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on conviction.

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.

Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an interview published on its website that he hoped to stay in the autonomous region of China because he has faith in "the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."

A prominent former politician in Hong Kong, Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, said he doubted whether Beijing would intervene yet.

"Beijing would only intervene according to my understanding at the last stage. If the magistrate said there is enough to extradite, then Mr. Snowden can then appeal," he said.

Lee said Beijing could then decide at the end of the appeal process if it wanted Snowden extradited or not.

Snowden could contest extradition on grounds of political persecution.

Hong Kong lawyer Mark Sutherland said that the filing of a refugee, torture or inhuman punishment claim acts as an automatic bar on any extradition proceedings until those claims can be assessed.

"Some asylum seekers came to Hong Kong 10 years ago and still haven't had their protection claims assessed," Sutherland said.

Hong Kong lawmakers said that the Chinese government should make the final decision on whether Snowden should be extradited to the United States.

Outspoken legislator Leung Kwok-hung said Beijing should instruct Hong Kong to protect Snowden from extradition before his case gets dragged through the court system.

Leung urged the people of Hong Kong to "take to the streets to protect Snowden."

The Obama administration has now used the Espionage Act in seven criminal cases in an unprecedented effort to stem leaks. In one of them, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning acknowledged he sent more than 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and other materials to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. His military trial is underway.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the charges against Snowden.

"I've always thought this was a treasonous act," he said in a statement. "I hope Hong Kong's government will take him into custody and extradite him to the U.S."

But the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy group, said Snowden should be shielded from prosecution by whistle-blower protection laws.

"He disclosed information about a secret program that he reasonably believed to be illegal, and his actions alone brought about the long-overdue national debate about the proper balance between privacy and civil liberties, on the one hand, and national security on the other," the group said in a statement.

Michael di Pretoro, a retired 30-year veteran with the FBI who served from 1990 to 1994 as the legal liaison officer at the American consulate in Hong Kong, said "relations between U.S. and Hong Kong law enforcement personnel are historically quite good."

"In my time, I felt the degree of cooperation was outstanding to the extent that I almost felt I was in an FBI field office," di Pretoro said.

The U.S. and Hong Kong have a standing agreement on the surrender of fugitives. However, Snowden's appeal rights could drag out any extradition proceeding.

The success or failure of any extradition proceeding depends on what the suspect is charged with under U.S. law and how it corresponds to Hong Kong law under the treaty. In order for Hong Kong officials to honor the extradition request, they have to have some applicable statute under their law that corresponds with a violation of U.S. law.

Disclosure of the criminal complaint came as President Barack Obama held his first meeting with a privacy and civil liberties board and as his intelligence chief sought ways to help Americans understand more about sweeping government surveillance efforts exposed by Snowden.

The five members of the little-known Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board met with Obama for an hour in the White House Situation Room, questioning the president on the two NSA programs that have stoked controversy.

One program collects billions of U.S. phone records. The second gathers audio, video, email, photographic and Internet search usage of foreign nationals overseas, and probably some Americans in the process, who use major Internet service providers, such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.

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pandadaddy wrote:
Freedom of speech? Give me a break.
on June 22,2013 | 07:19AM
kennysmith wrote:
thank you, everyone have rights. even the person who told everyone about what our dum gov is doing to us. if i had a chance i have would did the same to. i don't like our gov doing this to any one. free speech is real good.
on June 22,2013 | 07:55AM
pandadaddy wrote:
I think you took my comment out of context. This guy agreed to safeguard our nation's security by keeping his mouth shut while having access to classified information and he put our national security at risk by opening his fat mouth. While I don't condone our government's attitude about having the power to do whatever they want, whenever they want, Snowden was naive about the damage he caused overall. If the feds tapped my phone or viewed my phone records, I could care less since I have nothing of substance. I've always assumed my cell phone and internet was being tracked by someone anyway.
on June 22,2013 | 08:20AM
bender wrote:
You can bet the advertisers are tracking you.
on June 22,2013 | 09:54AM
Watergate_Mike wrote:
And why should we roll over and play dead on that one? What has happened since the mid-1970s is every public building, bank, major office building and harbor has been barricaded. What has happened since the mid-1970s is that in addition to a closed-circuit camera inside and just outside a small store there are thousands of closed-circuit cameras everywhere and in many outdoor places, even at all four corners of an intersection. You will see that every station to be built on the Hawaii Monorail system will have "security" cameras in the budget and ultimately on the platforms. When you use an ATM at the bank, your image is taken and you are neither advised nor asked for it to happen. Now for all of those among you who say it's OK as long as it makes me safe, just ask your local police to see a camera's images if you are robbed of your wallet or jewelry. You will soon learn, it is NOT for YOUR use. It is for THEIR use.
on June 22,2013 | 12:16PM
lee1957 wrote:
While the rail stations may have security cameras, rest assured after a few years they won't be working.
on June 22,2013 | 02:30PM
BluesBreaker wrote:
There's no evidence he put anything at risk, except perhaps the very lucrative industry that's grown up around security and surveillance contracts. There's no solid documentation that any terrorist threats were neutralized by Prism, Boundless Informant or other NSA programs that were exposed. On the contrary, the activities that have taken place show the billions poured into these programs aren't working all that well.

Government, corporate media (some owned by defense contractors), pundits who get their stories from friends in high places, and others with a stake in the status quo have worked diligently to scare the public into believing that American citizens are in imminent personal danger, when the likelihood of being a victim of terrorism or astronomically less than a lot of other threats, like car crashes or dying of post-op infections or receiving the wrong drug while in a hospital. Let's put resources where they actually could make a difference, instead of fat contracts for defense and security contractors who aren't making us appreciably safer.

on June 22,2013 | 01:15PM
bender wrote:
Hopefully our government will never trust you with our secrets. When you are given a security clearance and access to classified information you have to put your personal beliefs aside. Do you rhink your beliefs or Snowden's beliefs are more paramount than national security.
on June 22,2013 | 09:53AM
honokai wrote:
Of course this is a political charge. Snowden is an american dissident that needs to find a country that hasn't yet lost its mind and soul. Good luck brother.
on June 22,2013 | 07:20AM
pcman wrote:
IRT honokai on political charge. This is not a political charge in that both Repubs and Dems have accused Snowden of treason or espionage.
on June 22,2013 | 10:14AM
honokai wrote:
IRT pcman --- Those two political parties have failed us and are mere distractions used by Wall Street and the military complex which are the power centers. If you have hope in these institutions saving us, good luck to you. Snowden is a dissident. His disclosures are meant for us. The charge is comes from the power structure that thinks they know what is good for us and that we should blindly accept it. That is dangerous. Governments cannot be trusted. That is fundamental.
on June 22,2013 | 10:44AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Snowden did violate some laws and agreements he made and if he comes back to the U.S. he should face the consequences for these, but not espionage. There's no evidence he did this at the behest of another state or party seeking to harm the U.S. He appears to have acted out of conviction, whether one agrees with his perspective and motives or not.
on June 22,2013 | 01:19PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Treason plain and simple, there was a time when the government would hang US citizen's that give information the enemy. That's more or less what happened here.
on June 22,2013 | 04:41PM
BluesBreaker wrote:
". . . there was a time when the government would hang US citizen's (sic) that [who] give (sic) information [to] the enemy."

Since when did the Washington Post and The Guardian become the enemy?

I would rather take my chances with a terrorist attack than give up my Fourth Amendment protections. I'm grateful that the American people were told what is being done in their name, to them, with their tax dollars. These trumped up fears of terrorists are merely a ploy to give more tax dollars to Booze Hamilton and other security contractors who in turn contribute to the political campaigns of those who pass laws like the so-called Patriot Act.

on June 22,2013 | 05:37PM
sailfish1 wrote:
You are wrong. For every terrorist attack that succeeds, there will be many many more. If the country shows itself as vulnerable, the bad guys will be all over the place. You may want to take your chances but what about your family, children, and every other man, woman, and child in our country?
on June 22,2013 | 07:35PM
pcman wrote:
IRT honokai on trust. Actually I trust the military complex a lo more than Wall Street and the political complex (the three branches of government). I spent 20 years on active duty and 25 years as a DOD civil servant and I can tell you bad eggs get weeded out and go back to the civilian world. That includes bad doctors, bad pilots, bad engineers, bad intelligence collectors, etc. I trust the military because it will never overthrow the government and is always mission oriented. he problem with the military complex is that political appointees are always at the lead. Fortunately, the military will never obey an illegal order from the civilian leadership. Sometimes, I believe at the highest levels, military leaders may follow immoral or unethical orders, like those related to the Benghazi incident. That was unforgiveable if it was true. The least trustworthy people are those lie Snowden who broke a promise not to leak classified information to uncleared people.
on June 22,2013 | 01:37PM
honokai wrote:
I don't doubt that most of those serving our country have the best of intentions and motives. My concern is with assets directed inwards towards the civilian population. And I agree that the only thing that stands between an oppressive political regime is educated and courageous professionals that won't let lawlessness happen. . I will grant that Snowden crossed the line. But I am not ready to judge him a traitor. Political leadership has made it clear what their position is.
on June 22,2013 | 02:31PM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Bull. What happened at Walter Reed? The Army didn't do such a great job of getting rid of bad doctors there. As for bad engineers, we can thank the Army Corp of Engineers for what happened to New Orleans after Katrina. The military is also the most wasteful branch of government (remember the $435 claw hammer, the $640 toilet seat and $7,600 coffee makers?)

The military also has been plagued by scandals from Tailhook to the Air Force Academy's sexual assault scandal of 2003, when investigations revealed twelve percent of the women who graduated from the Air Force Academy that year reported that they were victims of rape or attempted rape while at the Academy. Of 659 women enrolled at the Academy at the time, 70 percent stated they had been the victims of sexual harassment, of which 22 percent said they experienced "pressure for sexual favors.

Then last month, a top-level staffer for the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention team was charged early with sexual assault. Nothing has changed. Yep, you can really trust the military based on that kind of record.

on June 22,2013 | 05:52PM
cojef wrote:
What is he waiting for? Is there a future for him in the PRC or Iceland? These are questions he should have addressed before going half-cocked and spilling the beans. He should have realized that our Government cannot bend the rules in matters as grave as he is facing. The filings are indications where this is leading to. There is no future for him in the USA.
on June 22,2013 | 08:29AM
bender wrote:
He's hoping to become a martyr, and I suppose he will be to folks like kennysmith. But to most he will be known as a traitor, and deservedly so.
on June 22,2013 | 09:56AM
RichardCory wrote:
Yes, he's a traitor to the monopolized power structure of Washington that tramples our rights to protect its own political interests. You know who else were traitors? The revolutionaries of 1776. Every democracy has been founded by traitors rebelling against tyrants. Snowden is restoring the dwindling democracy of our nation, and for that he necessarily must be a traitor. He stands for open and honest government that respects the liberties of its citizens; you stand for tyranny and abuse. Of course he is a traitor in your eyes, and deservedly so.
on June 22,2013 | 01:32PM
pcman wrote:
IRT cojef on waiting. He is waiting for the two countries to offer him bids for his knowledge and services. The problem is the information Snowden has is rapidly becoming overcome by events as more is being declassified by the government. He would have been worth a lot if he had just shut up and negotiated with Iceland and China secretly. Ironically, the information he had is no longer classified and having run out of the US he is no longer a whistle blower but a loose canon.
on June 22,2013 | 10:27AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
Wow, you can read minds! Very impressive. It takes a lot of guts to do what you think is right, even when you know there will be dire consequences. He stated he did what he did so the American people could decide if that's what they really want. Democracy depends on the citizens knowing what their government is doing in their name and with their money. Giving them that knowledge is really an act of patriotism. What's not patriotic is keeping secrets about the government spying on the American people.
on June 22,2013 | 05:59PM
Anonymous wrote:
Good thing he didn't spill the beans on our governments depopulation program, people would see what they are really worth to the higher ups.
on June 22,2013 | 09:09AM
Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
Depopulation program? With the thousands of illegals streaming across our border each week, lured by the promise of eventual citizenship, welfare, Social Security, and medical care, that surely will NEVER happen.
on June 22,2013 | 05:12PM
den1718 wrote:
What do you do to a Rat?
on June 22,2013 | 05:26PM
honokai wrote:
the question den --- is what do you do to 10 million rats? eradication is not an option my friend --- we will not yield the sacred turf called America
on June 22,2013 | 05:47PM
Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
Says China: "Or else what?" How laughable are the empty threats and promises that this King of Rhetoric utters to our enemies around the world. Heck, he can't even acknowledge an OVERT terrorist attack in Benghazi! But he's sure there to take the credit when the U.S. Navy SEALS blow Osama Bin Laden away. What a silly little man, indeed.
on June 22,2013 | 05:40PM
palani wrote:
"U.S. to Hong Kong: Don't delay Snowden extradition"

Let's turn it around. What would our government do if a Chinese national with top secret clearance defected to the U.S.? Does anyone really think we would extradite that person? Political asylum would likely be immediately offered.

on June 22,2013 | 06:06PM
HD36 wrote:
This whole thing could be a false flag to start a war with China. Why? They just signed a bilateral trade agrement with Russia to buy 365 million metric tons of oil in a bilateral trade agreement bypasssing the US dollar as the world reserve currency. With an impending economic collapse, a war with Iran and China would be to blame instead of the Federal Reserve and the government.
on June 22,2013 | 07:24PM
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