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US charges Snowden with espionage

The US government has charged former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with espionage and theft.

Snowden has admitted providing information to the news media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programmes.

A one-page criminal complaint filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virgina, said Snowden engaged in unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information. He is also charged with theft of government property. All three offences carry a maximum 10-year prison penalty.

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 met Mr Obama for an hour in the White House Situation Room, questioning the president on NSA programmes that have stoked controversy.

Congressional leaders have accused Snowden of treason for revealing the once-secret surveillance programmes. The NSA collects records of millions of Americans' telephone calls and internet usage as a counter-terror tool.

Snowden is believed to be in hiding in Hong Kong, but a private plane was last night reported to be on standby to transport him to Iceland.

Icelandic businessman Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson, who has connections to the WikiLeaks secret-spilling organisation, said that while he has not spoken directly to Snowden, he has been in touch with a third party representing him.

Mr Sigurvinsson says he has access to planes in Hong Kong and mainland China. But Iceland's government says it has not received an asylum request from Snowden.

Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Tomasson says Snowden has not approached the ministry and an asylum request could only begin if he is in Iceland.


From Belfast Telegraph