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Government files charges, including theft, against NSA secrets leaker

Federal prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint against NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden, charging him with theft and communicating classified intelligence information to an unauthorized person, Fox News confirms.

The complaint, obtained by Fox News, was filed June 14 in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia. 

The U.S. also had asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials. 

Snowden fled to Hong Kong last month after leaking highly classified documents about government information gathering that he acquired while working as a contractor for the NSA.

The three-count complaint includes "theft of government property," "unauthorized communication of national defense information" and "willful communication of classified communications of intelligence information to an unauthorized person." The latter two are charges under the Espionage Act.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has been outspoken on the Snowden case, said Friday night, "I've always thought this was a treasonous act. Apparently so does the U.S. Department of Justice. I hope Hong Kong's government will take him into custody and extradite him to the U.S."

New York Republican Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said: "I fully support the efforts of the United States government to indict and prosecute Edward Snowden to the fullest extent of the law. He has betrayed his country and the government must demand his extradition at the earliest date."

Snowden’s disclosures, reported over the last few weeks, have ignited a political storm over the balance between privacy rights and national security in the U.S. The NSA has defended the programs, saying they have disrupted possible terrorist attacks in the country.

One program collects billions of U.S. phone records. The second gathers audio, video, email, photographic and Internet search usage of foreign nationals overseas, and probably some Americans in the process, who use major providers such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.

It was unclear late Friday whether the U.S. had made an extradition request. Hong Kong had no immediate reaction to word of the charges against Snowden.

The Espionage Act arguably is a political offense. The Obama administration has now used the act in eight criminal cases in an unprecedented effort to stem leaks. In one of them, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning acknowledged he sent more than 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and other materials to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. His military trial is underway.

The U.S. and Hong Kong have a standing agreement on the surrender of fugitives. However, Snowden's appeal rights could drag out any extradition proceeding.

The success or failure of any extradition proceeding depends on what the suspect is charged with under U.S. law and how it corresponds to Hong Kong law under the treaty. In order for Hong Kong officials to honor the extradition request, they have to have some applicable statute under their law that corresponds with a violation of U.S. law.

In Iceland, a business executive said Friday that a private plane was on standby to transport Snowden from Hong Kong to Iceland, although Iceland's government says it has not received an asylum request from Snowden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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