“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.
Leung’s office declined to comment on Snowden’s case Saturday. The police department did not respond to calls and e-mails.
Douglas McNabb, a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in international extradition cases, said that if authorities know Snowden’s location, he may already have asked for asylum, a complicated process that might have to be worked out before Hong Kong authorities could arrest him.
“If he applied for asylum, that process may trump being arrested on a provisional arrest warrant,” McNabb said.
Snowden, who turned 30 on Friday, revealed himself June 9 as the anonymous source for articles in the British newspaper the Guardian and The Post about the NSA surveillance of telephone calls and Internet communications. He was staying in an upscale hotel in Hong Kong, a city he said he had chosen because he felt he might win asylum there.