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Justice Department Prepares Charges Against NSA Leaker Snowden

By    |   Tuesday, 11 June 2013 09:34 AM

The Justice Department is preparing charges against Edward Snowden, the former federal government contract worker who revealed the National Security Agency's vast secret surveillance program, ABC News reported.

Booz Allen Hamilton, the government contract company Snowden worked for, confirmed Tuesday that Snowden, whose salary was $122,000, was fired Monday for violating the firm's code of ethics.

The FBI's Washington field office will oversee the investigation of Snowden, who said he leaked the classified information to Britain's Guardian newspaper because he wanted the American public to know the extent of the government's clandestine surveillance activities.

Meanwhile, an internal review has been launched to solely assess damage to national security, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Reuters. This review is separate from an initial criminal-leak investigation opened by the Justice Department. 

The administration's review will examine the extent of damage to national security programs from the unauthorized disclosures of details of NSA's collection of phone call and email data, the official told Reuters.

It will be coordinated by the National Counterintelligence Executive, a branch of the Director of National Intelligence's office, the official said.

It is unclear whether Snowden is still in Chinese territory or has left for another country such as Iceland, where he has said he may seek asylum, reports The New York Times. The Mira Hotel in Hong Kong, where he had been staying, said he checked out on Monday.

Kerri Jo Heim, a real estate agent in Hawaii, told the Times that police on June 5 visited the Oahu house Snowden shared with his girlfriend. By then, Snowden already was in Hong Kong.

The paper said that pressing charges against the 29-year-old information-technology contractor would help the government in any extradition moves, as governments are generally reluctant to hand over suspects unless they have been formally charged.

Legal experts in Hong Kong said the government there likely would extradite Snowden to the United States if it found him and Washington requested that it do so.

"He won't find Hong Kong a safe harbor," said Regina Ip, a former secretary of security who is a member of the legislature.

Russia, however, said it would weigh an asylum request from Snowden.

"We will take action based on what actually happens. If we receive such a request, it will be considered," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry told the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's State Duma, its lower house of parliament, acknowledged that there would be "hysteria" in the U.S. if his country were to grant Snowden asylum.

Writing on Twitter, Alexei Pushkov said, "Having promised Snowden refuge, Moscow is taking up the defense of those persecuted for political reasons. There would be hysteria in the U.S. In listening to phone calls and tracking Internet activity, U.S. intelligence agencies have violated the laws of their own country."

Referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Pushkov said, "In this sense, Snowden -- like Assange -- is a human-rights activist."

Despite Snowden's youth and lack of university education, he was able to get a job with Booz Allen which allowed him almost unfettered access to private information on just about anyone in the country.

"I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email," he told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

He said he handed highly sensitive documents to journalists because the extent of the official snooping appeared to him to be part of an "architecture of oppression."

Snowden's leaks showed that the government had obtained a record of every phone call made from Verizon cellphones. They also showed that Internet giants such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and Apple had cooperated with the government in giving up billions of pieces of information about the web use of individuals.

Members of Congress will be briefed by intelligence and security officials on the programs this week, including a Tuesday session with the House of Representatives. Lawmakers promised public debate and legislative efforts to tighten the laws on U.S. government surveillance.

"We'll have a lot of hearings on this," said Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. She said there were questions about how Snowden, a high-school dropout, gained a top-secret clearance and access to high-level government secrets.

Booz Allen said it had terminated Snowden's employment on Monday for violations of its code of ethics and policies. It said he had been an employee for less than three months at an annual salary rate of $122,000.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill designed to end the secret supervision of the programs by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by requiring declassification of significant court rulings.

"Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it's allowed to take under the law," said Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat and chief co-sponsor with Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican.

Snowden said in the Guardian video that he wanted to make the public aware of the NSA's broad surveillance programs, but his disclosures to the Guardian and the Washington Post have sparked a mix of condemnation and praise. 

"He's a traitor," House Speaker John Boehner said of Snowden in an interview with ABC News. He defended the NSA programs and their congressional oversight, saying Americans are not "snooped on" unless they communicate with a terrorist in another country.

"The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk, it shows our adversaries what our capabilities are, and it's a giant violation of the law," Boehner said.

Many other lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have also called for swift punishment. But Senator Rand Paul, a Republican popular with the Tea Party movement that campaigns against intrusive government, said he was reserving judgment on Snowden.

"I think most Americans don't want this surveillance," Paul said on CBS's "This Morning." He said such civil disobedience happened when people felt like they had no other options.

In Hong Kong, reporters continued to stake out hotels across the city on Tuesday in search of Snowden, who checked out of his luxury hotel in the Kowloon district on Monday.


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The Justice Department is preparing charges against Edward Snowden, the former federal government contract worker who revealed the NSA's vast secret surveillance program, ABC News reported.
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 09:34 AM
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