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U.S. officials vow pursuit of Snowden, cite extradition delays

June 23, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano

WASHINGTON – As Edward Snowden, who leaked details of secret U.S. surveillance programs, reportedly arrived in Moscow on Sunday from Hong Kong, officials at the U.S. Department of Justice pledged to continue their attempts to extradite him to face trial in the United States.

A department official acknowledged Sunday that the extradition process had broken down during discussions between the United States and Hong Kong.

Snowden was never detained in Hong Kong or "under any kind of police protection" while he was staying in Hong Kong, said a department official, speaking anonymously because of the delicate matter of dealing with a host of countries regarding Snowden. The official said that there were delays in getting a criminal warrant to that country and in trying to arrange an extradition hearing.

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The former contractor for the National Security Agency flew to Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, the official said. But rather than remaining at the airport "under some kind of asylum," he was taken by car under some sort of official Russian protection. As he understands it, the official said, Snowden and the Russians can claim he is in a "comfort zone" until he departs, probably on Monday.

"We are nor sure about Cuba as his next stop," the official cautioned. He said the United States was monitoring Iceland and Ecuador.

The department filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden on June 14 that included allegations under the Espionage Act. Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said the United States had contacted Hong Kong “based on the criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, and in accordance with the U.S.-Hong Kong Agreement for the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders.”

“We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel,” Chitre said.

Hong Kong apparently knew where Snowden was staying, said the department official who asked not to be identified, but there was still a delay in tracking and finding him before he suddenly left for Moscow.

There was also the matter of having top officials in Hong Kong brief the Chinese government in Beijing, and both U.S. and Hong Kong officials were still waiting for Beijing to approve his arrest.

"There was a lot of red tape, but we thought it would get done," the official said.

He added that, while Hong Kong could have legally moved on its own against Snowden, it nevertheless apparently wanted to wait for a blessing from Beijing.

He said further that when the complaint was unsealed Friday evening, and Hong Kong and Beijing realized that two of the three charges fell under the Espionage Act, it suddenly "raised political concerns and put a new dimension into things."

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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