Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ex-CIA leaker Snowden resurfaces in Hong Kong

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Officially he might not be a fugitive. But, Edward Snowden, the man Washington most wants to run to ground – just as soon as it gets its legal paperwork in order, has emerged from hiding in Hong Kong, insisting he wants a legal showdown with the US in the island's courts.

"People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions…I would rather stay and fight the US government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong's rule of law." 

Despite repeated advice to the contrary, offered by local lawyers in media interviews, Snowden fixates on the notion of his 'faith in Hong Kong's rule of law'.

A TV screen shows a news report on Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programs, at a restaurant in Hong Kong Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

A TV screen shows a news report on Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programs, at a restaurant in Hong Kong Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Photo: AP

Mr Snowden, who over the weekend revealed himself as the former intelligence systems administrator behind some of the most damaging leaks of classified US information, told the South China Morning Post: "I'm not here to hide from justice – I'm here to reveal criminality."

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Mr Snowden told the Post: " I have had many opportunities to flee … [but] my intention is to ask the courts and the people of Hong Kong to decide my fate."

His comments come as American politicians and pundits take sides on whether Mr Snowden should be treated as a traitor or hero after his orchestration of news reports last week which revealed the massive extent of US intelligence surveillance of phone calls and email traffic by hundreds of millions of Americans and foreigners.

The newspaper reported that Mr Snowden, who on Monday had checked out of Hong

Kong's Mira Hotel, was now in a secret location. But also is quoted saying he planned to remain in Hong Kong until he was 'asked to leave.'

Two investigations have begun in the US, one by the FBI and a second by the National Security Agency. But it is expected to be some time before formal charges, most likely under the Espionage Act, are formulated against the 29-year-old who, until his sacking on Monday, was employed by Booz Allen Hamilton on contract to the NSA.

The US has an extradition treaty with Hong Kong – which it frequently invokes with little controversy. And in the absence of charges, Mr Snowden is deemed to be free, technically at least, to leave the island any time he likes.

Kevin Egan, a local lawyer specialising in extradition cases, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Snowden should scarper just as soon as he can.

"If I was him I'd be getting out of here and heading to a sympathetic jurisdiction as fast as possible and certainly before the US issues a request for his extradition," Mr Egan was quoted. "The attitude of the judiciary here seems to be that if Uncle Sam wants you. Uncle Sam will get you."

Another Hong Kong lawyer agreed. Jonathan Acton-Bond told Reuters: "Government bodies can always find an excuse to temporise, or stop him."

Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing, which has ultimate control of affairs in the former British colony, have yet to comment on the Snowden case, beyond a pro-forma local acknowledgement that it would be handled within the law.

That requires an American charge to be laid and for an equivalent charge to be found under local law. Not difficult – 'unlawful use of computers' is among offences in the extradition treaty.

But the extradition process seemingly would give Mr Snowden the forum he seeks to argue against the invasion of American privacy and general over-reach by the US security agencies.

Reports from Hong Kong on Tuesday say that Mr Snowden would have the right to challenge any American application in court. At the same time, were he to apply for asylum, a process some legal sources have suggested he has initiated already, the process could drag on for months – if not years.

In the Post interview, Mr Snowden says: "People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions…I would rather stay and fight the US government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong's rule of law."

But the paper also quotes Law Yuk-kai, head of a local watchdog agency, Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, expressing surprise at Mr Snowden's choice – "[His] positive view of Hong Kong no longer matches reality."


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