The charging of NSA leaker Edward Snowden with espionage by the United States reflects “the absolutely atrocious record of the Obama administration when it comes to press freedoms and the treatment of whistleblowers and leakers,” the British journalist who initially disclosed top-secret data about the agency’s surveillance programs said on Friday.
Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper told Anderson Cooper on CNN that Snowden was now the seventh “leaker” to be charged under the federal Espionage Act — more than double those charged since the statute was enacted in 1917 “to silence dissenters” of World War I.
“It’s one thing to charge Snowden with crimes, but to charge him with espionage, which is when somebody works for a foreign government or sells secrets — given what he did — is kind of extreme excess that the Obama administration has been guilty of for years now,” Greenwald said.
On Friday, the United States filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden, 29, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, The Washington Post reports. He was charged with espionage, theft, and conversion of government property.
The complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is based, the Post reports.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the filing.
Snowden, who reportedly is in hiding in Hong Kong, has admitted to leaking top-secret information to Greenwald on the NSA’s telephone and Internet surveillance programs. Snowden uploaded the information to a banned USB drive while working at the NSA operation in Hawaii.
The Guardian also published on Friday more Snowden revelations about the agency that showed British spies are running an online eavesdropping operation so vast that it outstrips even the U.S.’s international Internet surveillance effort.
In the same CNN interview, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Cooper that individuals did not have to solely provide information to foreign governments to be charged under the Espionage Act.
“All it has to be is information given to an unauthorized person that ‘could be used to the injury of the United States,’” Toobin said. “The Obama administration has been much more aggressive in using the Espionage Act for leaks to journalists, as opposed to spying for a foreign country.”
Now, however, begins the “enormously complicated, both legally and diplomatically” process of getting Snowden extradited to the United States for prosecution, Toobin said.
“He is presumably still in Hong Kong. We have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. Hong Kong, however, is only semi-independent from China — and our extradition treaty with Hong Kong is not airtight,” he said.
“If he can be found in Hong Kong, which is not at all clear — and, if both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments want to turn him over — there could be an extradition proceeding,” Toobin continued. “All of that is enormously complicated and could take a great deal of time, but it all depends on finding him in the first place — and I don’t think that’s been done yet.”
Greenwald, without disclosing Snowden’s whereabouts, said that the American was weighing several options, including the possibility of seeking asylum in Iceland.
“It’s important to realize that there’s lot of support for him in what he did all over the world,” the British journalist told CNN. “People all over the world use the Internet. They’re very concerned about this kind of spying.
“You’re going to see a lot of different options [that] he has from countries and populations around the world who think he did a noble thing and should be protected instead of spending the rest of his life in prison.”
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