WASHINGTON (CNN) – Federal prosecutors have charged Edward Snowden, the man who admitted leaking top-secret details about U.S. surveillance programs, with espionage and theft of government property, according to a criminal complaint that was unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
The United States has asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
The complaint charges Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person — allegations that amount to espionage in the United States under the federal Espionage Act.
Snowden, 29, has admitted in interviews he was the source behind the leak of classified documents about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Those leaks were the basis of reports in Britain’s Guardian newspaper this month. The Guardian revealed Snowden’s identify at his request.
The documents revealed the existence of top-secret surveillance programs that collect records of domestic telephone calls in the United States and monitor the Internet activity of overseas residents.
The revelation rocked the Obama administration and U.S. intelligence community, raising questions about secret operations of the NSA and whether the agency was infringing on American civil liberties.
Snowden is believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong, where he said in interviews earlier this month he fled with the documents after taking a leave of absence from his job as an intelligence analyst for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamiliton.
In the interview with the South China Morning Post, he said he plans to stay in Hong Kong to fight any attempt to force him to return to the United States because he has “faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”