The decision by American and self-proclaimed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to decamp to Hong Kong after leaking U.S surveillance secrets offers no guarantee of freedom.
Hong Kong has a relatively solid human rights record and signed an extradition treaty with the United States in 1996, but the island region is now largely under the rule of communist China, notorious for spying on the United States.
“Does he not know (Hong Kong) now belongs to the People’s Republic of China?” asked Steve Bucci, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation.
Bucci also said Snowden’s purported perception that Hong Kong is commitment to free speech is “wacky.”
He argues Snowden’s analysis suggests “muddled thinking” and points out that others have gone as far as suggesting he is being “handled” by others with perhaps a different or larger agenda.
Tad Nelson, a Houston criminal attorney, agrees that Hong Kong has some freedom of speech but thinks officials there will “make it hard” for the United States to get Snowden.
“That’s why he went there,” Nelson told Fox News on Monday. “He knows it’s the safest place in the world.”
Other experts suggest Snowden is trying to take advantage of a recent Hong Kong court decision requiring a review of asylum applications, which also could allow him to stay there while the process remains in limbo.
Simon Young, of the University of Hong Kong’s law center, told the online news agency GlobalPost that everybody is waiting to learn how the Hong Kong government is going to implement the court decision.
"Until that’s the case, you can’t return anyone until the law’s in place," he said.
An extradition process could take months or even years, experts say.
Snowden claims to be the source of blockbuster Guardian and Washington Post stories last week about a National Security Agency-led project to record Americans’ phone calls and Internet activity -- a post 9/11 attempt to foil terrorism.
Both news organizations revealed Snowden’s identity Sunday, with the Guardian’s version including a roughly 13-minute tape in which Snowden says he took the information because he thought the NSA’s massive date collection had reached the level of “abuses” and the public “needs to decide.”
The 29-year-old Snowden says he is a former CIA technical assistant and acquired the information while working for Booz Allen Hamilton as an NSA contract employee. Booz Allen confirmed Snowden worked for the firm for three months in a Hawaii office.
Snowden has reportedly said his best hope for asylum is in Iceland “with its reputation of a champion of Internet freedom.”
To be sure, Iceland has no extradition agreement with the United States, but how and when he would get there remains unclear.
Right now, Snowden’s whereabouts remains uncertain, though he told The Guardian he has been in Hong Kong since May 20.
And the Justice Department has said only that the agency is “in the initial stages” of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by somebody with authorized access.