Officials have charged Edward Snowden and demanded his return to the United States. The former NSA employee allegedly leaked details about a top-secret surveillance program, sparking public uproar across the US.
Prosecutors filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden and issued a provisional warrant for his arrest on Friday, according to US officials. The complaint was filed with a court in the eastern district of the US state of Virginia, where Snowden's former employer Booz Allen Hamilton is based.
The Washington Post broke the story on Friday, citing unnamed US officials. News agencies subsequently corroborated the Post's stories, also citing sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
According to the Post's article, justice officials charged Snowden with espionage, theft and conversion of government property.
The charges came several weeks after Snowden's comments because officials wanted to ensure that Hong Kong would accept them, according to the US television broadcaster NBC.
It wasn't immediately clear when Hong Kong officials would receive a formal request from US officials to extradite the alleged whistleblower. Snowden is believed to have fled there in early June.
A report published earlier this month by the UK newspaper the Guardian revealed the existence of a surveillance program known as Prism, which surreptitiously gathers intelligence from phone and Internet records. Several days after the article appeared, Snowden - a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA), which oversees the program - claimed responsibility for the leak.
Despite attempts to reassure the public that the government cannot gather information without a court order - comparable to a search warrant obtained with evidence of probable cause - the NSA and the Obama administration have faced sharp criticism from the public since the article appeared. President Barack Obama continues to defend the program as a necessary measure for US security.
Earlier this week, the NSA chief detailed Prism's effectiveness before a government committee.
"In recent years these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the US and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe, to include helping prevent potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9-11," NSA chief General Keith Alexander told the House of Representatives Select Committee on Intelligence.
kms/lw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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