The U.S. government has filed espionage charges against Edward Snowden and asked authorities in Hong Kong to detain him.
Snowden is the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about secret telephone- and Internet-surveillance programs.
Court documents made public on June 21 say Snowden has been charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence information to an unauthorized person.
Each of the three charges carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence following a conviction.
The criminal complaint against Snowden was filed with a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, the headquarters of Snowden’s former employer, the government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
"The Washington Post" reported that the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain Snowden on a provisional arrest warrant.
Authorities in the Chinese-ruled territory of Hong Kong had no immediate comment.
British Surveillance Operation
The criminal complaint against Snowden was disclosed as Britain’s "The Guardian" newspaper, based on documents provided by Snowden, reported that Britain’s spy agency is conducting a massive surveillance operation of international telephone and Internet communications.
The report says the British GCHQ agency taps into and stores huge volumes of data from fiber-optic cables through which global phone calls and Internet activities are transmitted.
It says that the information is monitored by analysts from Britain and the U.S. National Security Agency.
Previous disclosures from documents leaked by Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency has access to vast amounts of Internet data, such as e-mails, from large companies such as Facebook and Google, under a U.S. government program known as Prism.
Snowden's disclosures have also revealed that the U.S. government has used a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to gather metadata, such as the time, duration, and telephone numbers called, on all calls carried by service providers such as Verizon.
President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials have defended the programs, saying they are a legal and valuable tool to thwart terrorist attacks.
They say measures are in place to prevent the programs from being abused, such as being used to target the private lives of Americans.
Critics say the surveillance operation is excessive, that there is insufficient oversight, and that it infringes on the constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights of Americans.
Snowden’s current whereabouts is not publicly known. There has been no word on whether he has left Hong Kong.
Snowden flew to Hong Kong last month after leaving his job at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii.
Reports suggest Snowden could fight extradition to the United States by arguing he faces political persecution.
In general, the extradition agreement between the United States and Hong Kong excepts political offenses from the obligation to turn over a person.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that retained a separate legal system when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
However, the communist-led Chinese government exercises ultimate control over foreign affairs questions, including extradition cases.
With reporting by Reuters and AP