With Snowden In Hiding, House To Hear About Secret Surveillance Programs
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The entire House of Representatives will get its first briefing Tuesday on the government’s recently revealed top secret surveillance programs, while the man behind the leaks continues to hide out, presumably in Hong Kong.
Senior officials from the Justice Department, FBI, National Security Agency and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will attend the closed meeting for all House members, not just those who are in leadership posts or on the Intelligence Committee.
The briefing comes as the FBI has begun an investigation into the leak of information about the NSA’s PRISM program. The secret set of tools is used to collect data about overseas Internet communications. The NSA and FBI have obtained massive amounts of U.S. phone logs through a court order.
Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old contract computer employee, first went public Sunday in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian and said he had provided information out of concern about what he viewed as excessive intrusions by the NSA’s programs.
Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a contractor for the U.S. electronic intelligence agency, had been working at an NSA facility in Hawaii and had also worked for the CIA in the past. Snowden was last heard from during interviews he conducted from a hotel room in Hong Kong, but his whereabouts are unclear at the moment.
A federal law enforcement official said the FBI’s investigation of the NSA leaks would include searching computers used by Snowden and his home as well as moving to interview his girlfriend, relatives, friends and co-workers. It was not clear how long the investigation would take and what charges might be considered.
Former FBI official Don Borelli told CNN he thinks prosecutors will move quickly to bring charges against Snowden and request his extradition to the United States before he can try to move to another country, possibly to seek political asylum.
Borelli also said the United States wouldn’t want to see Chinese officials have a chance to find out all that Snowden may know. “This guy could be a gold mine for the Chinese,” Borelli said. “I mean obviously they’ve got an NSA, a CIA, a contractor with the ability to get his hands on lots and lots of classified information . … Who knows what other programs he was read in to?”
Borelli said the quickest option is to charge Snowden with disclosure of classified information to someone unauthorized to receive it, an Espionage Act offense that carries up to 10 years in prison.
He said officials will probably steer clear, at least for now, of mentioning possible treason charges that could carry the death penalty. “Some countries will not extradite people if they potentially face the death penalty,” said Borelli, now an executive with the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm.
Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director and CNN contributor, said one option might be to file charges against Snowden and then try to get Hong Kong authorities to deport him to the United States.
“The State Department can immediately revoke his U.S. passport and then send a certified copy of revocation to the authorities in Hong Kong, basically notifying them this individual is no longer traveling on a valid U.S. passport and is essentially illegally in your territory,” Fuentes said.
A key question is whether U.S. officials know Snowden’s whereabouts.
“I would be very certain that they know where he is,” Borelli said.
The FBI has a legal attache’s office in Hong Kong, and Borelli said agents would use their connections with Hong Kong law enforcement contacts to keep tabs on Snowden.
But he said the FBI is limited in what it can do on foreign soil and could not perform surveillance or other law enforcement operations without the permission of local authorities. Borelli also said he thinks it’s unlikely Snowden would participate in a voluntary interview with the FBI.
Borelli said the FBI must find evidence to corroborate the story Snowden gave in his interviews and he thinks it’s likely the FBI can find a digital trail from the man’s computer use.
By Carol Cratty
CNN Senior Producer
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