WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein says “the chase is on” for Edward Snowden after the former National Security Agency contractor fled Hong Kong for Moscow as he seeks asylum in Ecuador.
Feinstein told CBS News that she was surprised that China and Hong Kong would allow Snowden to leave after the United States contacted Hong Kong to seek his extradition.
“I think it’s a very big surprise,” Feinstein told “Face the Nation.” “I had actually thought that China would see this as an opportunity to improve relations and extradite him to the United States. China clearly had a role in this, in my view. I don’t think this was just Hong Kong without Chinese acquiescence.”
Snowden, who leaked top-secret government information to The Guardian and The Washington Post about the NSA’s surveillance programs on Americans, arrived in a Moscow airport Sunday as he seeks asylum in Ecuador. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told The Associated Press that his government has received an asylum request from Snowden.
A flight from Moscow to Havana, Cuba that Snowden had bought a ticket for departed early Monday morning but Snowden was not on board, according to The Associated Press. The seat Snowden had purchased remained empty as the plane took flight and his whereabouts are unknown.
A one-page criminal complaint against Snowden was unsealed Friday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., part of the Eastern District of Virginia where his former employer, government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, is headquartered, in McLean. He is charged with unauthorized communication of national defense information, willful communication of classified communications intelligence information and theft of government property. The first two are under the Espionage Act and each of the three crimes carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on conviction.
The complaint is dated June 14, five days after Snowden’s name first surfaced as the person who had leaked to the news media that the NSA, in two highly classified surveillance programs, gathered telephone and Internet records to ferret out terror plots.
Feinstein stated that what Snowden leaked could “really put people in jeopardy.”
“Whatever his motives are – and I take him at face value — he could have stayed and faced the music. I don’t think running is a noble thought,” Feinstein told CBS News.
Disclosure of the criminal complaint came as President Barack Obama held his first meeting with a privacy and civil liberties board as his intelligence chief sought ways to help Americans understand more about sweeping government surveillance efforts exposed by Snowden.
The five members of the little-known Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board met with Obama for an hour in the White House Situation Room, questioning the president on the two NSA programs that have stoked controversy.
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.
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