June 13 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong will deal with any U.S. request to extradite Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who disclosed secret information, according to the city’s legal system, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said.
“We can’t comment on individual cases,” Leung said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview in New York. “We’ll handle the case according to our law.”
As the U.S. Justice Department worked on possible charges, Snowden, who revealed details of U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, vowed to fight extradition from Hong Kong, where he fled before revealing his identity. In an interview published in the South China Morning Post, he said he hadn’t committed any crime and said the U.S. had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009.
“I’m neither traitor nor hero,” Snowden said. “I’m an American.”
The South China Morning Post said Snowden was interviewed in a secret location after he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel on June 10. Asked about his decision to flee to Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China that maintains a Western-style legal system, Snowden said: “People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
Should Snowden be charged or indicted, the U.S. would be required to present probable cause to Hong Kong authorities. As part of a 1996 treaty, the State Department would then make a formal extradition request. Hong Kong officials would decide whether to extradite Snowden, according to the treaty. China, which has sovereignty over Hong Kong, can refuse the transfer if it relates to its defense and foreign affairs.
At least 14 Hong Kong civic groups plan to march in support of Snowden on June 15 at the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong and the city government headquarters.
“We ask the U.S. government not to seek extradition of Snowden because he isn’t an offender,” said Leung Kwok-hung, a Hong Kong lawmaker and chairman of the League of Social Democrats. “He was speaking from his conscience.”
Speaking at a briefing today, China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called for more dialogue on cybersecurity. In response to a question about Snowden’s accusations of U.S. hacking, Hua said: “The adoption of double standards will bring no benefit to the settlement of the relevant issue.”
The U.S. government may want to adjust its counter-terrorism policies so that intrusions on individual rights “are not as expansive,” the English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today.
“Whether Snowden should be praised or condemned, the ongoing public debate sparked by his leaks is worthwhile if it can help both the American people and the U.S. government find a better balance between public safety and individuals’ right to privacy,” the editorial said.
U.S. officials have refused to say whether they know Snowden’s location or discuss what charges may be brought against him, citing the investigation into leaking of information about the federal government’s sweep of telephone and Internet data under a law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Snowden’s disclosures, made to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post, have triggered a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, calls for the surveillance to be limited, and a lawsuit accusing the government of violating the privacy and free-speech rights of its citizens.
As he spoke to the media, lawmakers on Capitol Hill braced for possible further disclosures of U.S. intelligence secrets, after receiving classified briefings about the programs yesterday from FBI, legal and intelligence officials.
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he expects Snowden to release more classified data.
“Apparently he’s got a thumb drive,” Chambliss said, though its contents are unknown. “He’s already exposed part of it and I guess he’s going to expose the rest of it.”
While no direct mention was made of additional leaks in the Morning Post interview, Snowden alleged that the U.S. is trying to “bully” Hong Kong’s government into extraditing him “before the local government can learn of this.”
Snowden, 29, a former national security contractor and technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, identified himself as the source of reports in the Guardian and the Washington Post about the program run by the National Security Agency. He arrived in Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii on May 20, after taking leave from his contractor position at Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., according to the Guardian.
Snowden worked at the NSA for the past four years with government contracting companies after a stint with the CIA. He most recently worked for several months at Booz Allen, which has announced yesterday that he was fired from his $122,000 a year job working with the NSA.
Several U.S. lawmakers said they wanted to find out how Snowden got access to the classified information, including an order from the special court that reviews requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that few top government officials are allowed to see.
Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed many other lawmakers when he said in an interview that “the administration should ultimately pursue all the legal avenues they have against him and prosecute him.”
Texas Representative Mike McCaul, the Republican head of the Homeland Security Committee, said the disclosures were “a serious breach of national security law.”