U.S. presses Hong Kong to send Snowden back

Sari Horwitz and Jia Lynn Yang / The Washington Post /

Obama administration officials Saturday publicly increased pressure on Hong Kong to move quickly to arrest Edward Snowden, a week after U.S. officials asked its government to detain the admitted leaker of documents about top-secret surveillance programs.

White House national security adviser Thomas Donilon said U.S. officials “are in conversation” with Hong Kong authorities and have asked the special administrative region of China to not only arrest the former National Security Agency contractor but also to extradite him to the United States to stand trial on criminal charges.

“If Hong Kong doesn’t act soon, it will complicate our bilateral relations and raise questions about Hong Kong’s commitment to the rule of law,” said another senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation.

The U.S. government, which has made the Snowden case a top priority and has devoted significant resources to prosecuting him, asked Hong Kong on June 14 to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant. That same day, federal prosecutors filed sealed criminal charges against him, including theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”

The fact that the U.S. government asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden emerged Friday when The Washington Post disclosed the contents of the sealed criminal complaint.

The White House referred all questions to Justice Department officials, who declined to comment.

The reasons for the apparent lack of action by Hong Kong are unclear. Officials might still be looking for Snowden. The South China Morning Post reported Saturday that Snowden is not under police protection but is in a “safe place” in Hong Kong. The newspaper also reported that Snowden had revealed more details about U.S. surveillance of Hong Kong and China.

Under the extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States, a provisional warrant, as opposed to a regular one, is a faster way to detain suspected criminals because it does not require the initial approval of Hong Kong’s chief executive, currently Leung Chun-ying.

Instead, a judge can issue the warrant immediately. Simon Young, a legal professor at the University of Hong Kong, said a warrant for Snowden’s arrest could have been issued as early as June 14.