WASHINGTON, D.C.: The whereabouts of whistleblower Edward Snowden were shrouded in mystery on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) as US lawmakers demanded his immediate extradition from Hong Kong over his sensational leaking of an Internet surveillance program.
Snowden, a 29-year-old technology expert working for a private firm subcontracted to the US National Security Agency (NSA), checked out of his Hong Kong hotel after revealing his identity to the British-based Guardian newspaper on Sunday.
The private contractor has become an instant hero for transparency advocates and libertarians around the globe following his exposure of the NSA’s worldwide monitoring of private users web traffic and phone records.
But the US government appeared to be gearing up to take action against Snowden on Monday with senior lawmakers branding his actions as “treason” and saying he should be extradited from Hong Kong as quickly as possible.
California’s Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein—chair of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—declined to go into specifics but said US authorities were vigorously pursuing Snowden.
“All the departments are proceeding, I think, aggressively,” Feinstein told US media, describing Snowden’s actions as “treason.”
Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, has had an extradition agreement with the United States for more than a decade.
“The extradition agreement with Hong Kong was signed in 1996 and entered into force in 1998. It is still in force, and we’ve actively used it over the years,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum lined up to demand Snowden’s speedy return to America as a Washington Post poll indicated that public opinion placed a higher importance on investigating possible terrorist threats rather than protecting an individual’s personal privacy.
Florida’s Democratic Senator, Bill Nelson, said Snowden should face treason charges.
“This is not a whistleblower, I think this is an act of treason,” he said. “This is deliberately taking highly, highly, super-compartmented classified information, and giving it directly out. He ought to be prosecuted under the law.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham added that, “I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice.”
President Barack Obama’s spy chief, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has described Snowden’s leaks as gravely damaging to US security, and referred the matter to the Justice Department, which has launched an investigation.
The White House declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing probe.
But a spokesman confirmed that Clapper will carry out an assessment of the damage allegedly wrought by the leaks, and confirmed that Obama had been briefed by senior staff over the weekend about the revelations.