WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Friday charged former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with espionage and theft of government property in the NSA surveillance case.
Snowden, believed to be holed up in Hong Kong, has admitted providing information to the news media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programs.
A one-page criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Alexandria, Va., says Snowden engaged in unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information. Both are charges under the Espionage Act. Snowden also is charged with theft of government property. All three crimes carry a maximum 10-year prison penalty.
The complaint is dated June 14, five days after Snowden’s name first surfaced as the leaker of information about the two programs.
Congressional reaction was swift.
“I’ve always thought this was a treasonous act. Apparently so does the U.S. Department of Justice,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has been outspoken on the Snowden case. “I hope Hong Kong’s government will take him into custody and extradite him to the U.S.”
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 obscure Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board huddled with Obama for an hour in the White House Situation Room, questioning the president on two NSA programs that have stoked controversy.