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US slaps espionage, theft charges on NSA whistleblower

June 22, 2013 12:05 IST

Edward Snowden, a former private contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency who leaked details of America's controversial secret surveillance programme, has been charged with espionage and stealing government property.

According to a federal complaint, filed last week in the United States District Court of Virginia, but unsealed on Friday, Snowden has been charged with espionage, theft of government data and conveying classified information to unauthorised person.

Snowden, 29, who has already been fired by his employer Booz Allen Hamilton, has fled to Hong Kong, but his current whereabouts are not known.

The United States has asked the government of Hong Kong to arrest him, a media report said.

If extradited to the United States and convicted in the court of law, he faces a 10-year imprisonment on each of these charges.

The documents leaked by Snowden, first published in The Guardian and The Washington Post, revealed details of the secretive programme of the US' National Security Agency about getting access to phone records of millions of Americans and getting Internet usage details of suspected foreign terrorists.

His leak of agency documents has set off a national debate over the proper limits of government surveillance. US intelligence officials have said his disclosures have done serious damage to national security by giving terrorists and others information on how to evade the intelligence net.

The Obama administration has defended the programme, arguing that this has helped foil more than 50 terrorist plots in 20 countries, including India.

However, this has created outrage among a number of countries which have strongly raised the issue with the United States.

The charges against Snowden are the seventh case under President Barack Obama in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media.

Lalit K Jha In Washington
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