Feds charge Snowden with espionage

The U.S. government has filed charges against the former NSA contractor who leaked details of top-secret surveillance programs and has asked the Hong Kong government to detain him.

Donna Tam
Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
A woman walks past a banner displayed in support of ex-NSA analyst Edward Snowden in Hong Kong on June 18, 2013. PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. government has quietly charged ex-NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden with espionage, theft, and conversion of government property, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor made headlines when he leaked details about top-secret surveillance programs that collect certain user information from Internet companies and phone service providers in an effort to track down terrorists.

In addition to filing a sealed criminal complaint, the U.S. has asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden, unnamed U.S. officials told the Post. U.S. prosecutors have 60 days to file an indictment and have Snowden sent back to the U.S.

Hong Kong has an extradition agreement with the U.S. While a few things could stand in the way of the extradition -- Snowden could embark on a lengthy legal battle with the U.S. government, or apply for asylum in Hong Kong -- the U.S. officials said Hong Kong has been cooperative in the past. But, the agreement does allow exceptions for political offenses, and espionage -- which includes stealing or exposing confidential information -- usually falls into that category.