By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A contractor at the National Security Agency who leaked details of top-secret U.S. surveillance programs dropped out of sight in Hong Kong on Monday, ahead of a likely push by the U.S. government to have him sent back to the United States to face charges.
Edward Snowden, 29, who provided the information for published reports last week that revealed the NSA’s broad monitoring of phone call and Internet data from large companies such as Google and Facebook, checked out of his Hong Kong hotel hours after going public in a video released on Sunday.
In Washington, several lawmakers called for the extradition and prosecution of the ex-CIA employee behind one of the most significant security leaks in U.S. history. Members of the U.S. Congress said they would be briefed on the topic on Tuesday; the U.S. Justice Department is in the initial stages of a criminal investigation.
“If anyone were to violate the law by leaking classified information outside the legal avenues, certainly that individual should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, said on CBS’s “This Morning.”
Snowden, who asked the Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspapers to identify him and his role, said he leaked the information because he believed the United States had built a vast and secret espionage machine to spy on Americans.
The former technical assistant at the CIA, who had been working at the NSA as an employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, said he had become disenchanted with President Barack Obama. Snowden said that Obama had continued the overly intrusive surveillance policies of George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,” Snowden told the Guardian, which published a video interview with him, dated June 6, on its website.
Snowden, who the Guardian said had been working at the NSA for four years as a contractor for outside companies, copied the secret documents at the NSA office in Hawaii three weeks ago and told his supervisor he needed “a couple of weeks” off for epilepsy treatments, the paper said. He flew to Hong Kong on May 20.