WASHINGTON The government has filed sealed criminal charges against former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who admitted leaking secrets about classified U.S. surveillance programs, U.S. sources said on Friday.
A U.S. Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a criminal complaint had been filed against Snowden, who disclosed documents detailing U.S. telephone and internet surveillance efforts.
Another U.S. source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was preparing to seek Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong, where he is believed to be in hiding.
Earlier, the Washington Post reported that U.S. prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint charging Snowden with espionage, theft and conversion of government property. The Post also reported that the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant.
The criminal complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Snowden's former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, is located, the Post reported.
Documents leaked by Snowden revealed that U.S. security services had monitored data about phone calls from Verizon and Internet data from large companies such as Google and Facebook as part of counterterrorism efforts.
U.S. federal prosecutors, by filing a criminal complaint, lay claim to a legal basis to make the request of the authorities in Hong Kong, the Post reported. The prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment and can then take steps to secure Snowden's extradition from Hong Kong for a criminal trial in the United States, the newspaper reported.
Snowden would be able to challenge the U.S. request for his extradition in court in Hong Kong, the Post reported.
The newspaper noted the U.S. extradition treaty with Hong Kong has an exception for political offenses, and that espionage has been viewed as a political offense.
An Icelandic businessman linked to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said on Thursday he had readied a private plane in China to fly Snowden to Iceland if Iceland's government would grant asylum.
Iceland refused on Friday to say whether it would grant asylum to Snowden.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Jim Loney and Will Dunham)