Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked information about U.S. government mass surveillance programs, has been charged by the U.S. with espionage, the Washington Post reported Friday.
Federal prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden (above) and are seeking to have him arrested in Hong Kong, according to the Post, which cited unnamed U.S. officials. He is charged with espionage, theft, and conversion of government property, the report says.
By bringing the charges, the U.S. has begun a process by which it can try to have Snowden extradited to the U.S. to face trial. Snowden can fight the effort in the Hong Kong courts, however, in a process that could last several months, the Post said.
Snowden sparked a furor this month after he leaked details about two U.S. surveillance programs to the Washington Post and the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. One program, called Prism, gives the National Security Agency access to customer data collected by large Internet firms, and the other provides access to U.S. phone call records.
Snowden has been both vilified as a traitor and hailed as a champion of the public’s right to privacy. He flew to Hong Kong last month after leaving his job as a contractor at an NSA facility in Hawaii and is thought to still be located in the Chinese territory.
U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, have defended the programs, saying they have helped to disrupt numerous terrorist plots in the U.S. and overseas. And they say the programs are subject to rigorous oversight.
Snowden has since expanded his accusations, saying NSA analysts can access the contents of a U.S. target’s phone calls and emails without a court order.
The complaint against Snowden was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, a jurisdiction where Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, has its headquarters, the Post reported.