Not quite in hiding after all, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contract worker turned grand whistleblower, surfaced once again in Hong Kong telling The South China Morning Post he intends to remain there while fighting any future attempt by the United States to extradite him.
After initially revealing himself last Sunday as the source of leaks to the media about two sweeping NSA initiatives to dragnet data from web and telephone traffic to help protect America against terrorist attack, Mr Snowden on Monday checked out of the Hong Kong hotel he had been living in, prompting a swirl of speculation about where he might be headed. Rumoured destinations ranged from Russia to Iceland.
As it previewed parts of an interview it conducted with Mr Snowden on its website, the Morning Post offered no information as to his precise whereabouts in the former British colony. But that he was still there and meant to stay there was not left in doubt. “My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” the American is quoted as saying.
Mr Snowden gave up his job at Booz Allen Hamilton (citing the need to get treatment for epilepsy) in Hawaii and fled to Hong Kong on 10 May when he thought that publication of what he had told reporters might be imminent. He responded to those who have suggested he made an odd choice. Hong Kong has a fairly comprehensive extradition agreement with the US. Moreover, it is ultimately a part of China which does not have the shiniest record when it comes to press freedoms or human rights.
“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,” he said in the exclusive interview. “I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
The whirlwind of media attention that his disclosures have visited on his family in the United States and the girlfriend he ditched in Hawaii does not seem to have escaped him. But he said he has deliberately not been in touch with any of them since the weekend. “I have not spoken to any of my family,” he told the newspaper. “I am worried about the pressure they are feeling from the FBI.” According to reports FBI agents have visited the homes of his mother in Maryland and his father in Pennsylvania in the last 72 hours.
No extradition request has yet been filed by the US nor is it clear what criminal charges might be under consideration by the Justice Department in the case. Some top lawmakers in Washington have publicly branded Mr Snowden a “traitor” for leaking information about NSA eavesdropping programmes and there is speculation he could be charged with violating the 1917 US Espionage Act.
Hong Kong meanwhile is expected to see a march by activists sympathetic with Mr Snowden this weekend ending on the street outside the US consulate there. “We call on Hong Kong to respect international legal standards and procedures relating to the protection of Snowden; we condemn the U.S. government for violating our rights and privacy; and we call on the US not to prosecute Snowden,” the organisers said.