30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Hong Kong minister rejects US accusations of deliberately delaying Snowden's arrest
US failed to provide information vital to processing whistle-blower's arrest
Hong Kong’s justice secretary said on Tuesday the United States had failed to provide crucial information necessary to support its request for the arrest of whistle-blower Edward Snowden before he had left the city.
The missing information included things as basic as a confirmation of Snowden’s full name and passport number, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said on Tuesday.
“Up to the moment Snowden left the city, the US government had not replied to the Department of Justice’s request for the necessary information,” he said.
“Therefore, it was impossible and there was no legal basis under Hong Kong law for the Department of Justice to ask a Hong Kong judge to sign off on a provisional arrest warrant,” Yuen said. “[Thus] there then was no legal basis to restrict or ban Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.”
Yuen’s public remarks – his first on the Snowden case – came after the White House said it was disappointed with the city’s failure to arrest the fugitive whistle-blower who has made public information detailing US internet spying programmes around the world.
Snowden left Hong Kong on Sunday and is believed to be in a transit area of a Moscow airport. The former CIA contractor had previously told the Post in an exclusive report that the US had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and China since 2009.
Yuen said the US government had not responded to Hong Kong’s request for a confirmation of Mr Snowden name and passport number even though it had mentioned that he was a US passport holder, Yuen said.
The name used in US government diplomatic documents was Edward James Snowden, the US Department of Justice referred to him as Edward J Snowden, and Hong Kong’s Immigration Department had him recorded as Edward Joseph Snowden, Yuen said.
“I couldn’t say the three names were consistent, so we needed further clarification. Otherwise, there would have been legal problems with a provisional arrest warrant,” Yuen said.
The US also failed to explain to Hong Kong authorities how two of the three charges the US mentioned in its arrest request fell within the scope of a US-Hong Kong rendition of fugitive offenders agreement signed in 1996.
The Hong Kong government on June 15 received the US request for the provisional arrest of Snowden on three charges, namely unauthorised disclosure of national defence information, unauthorised disclosure of intelligence and stealing state property.
Yuen said the US had failed to tell Hong Kong authorities which part of the agreement covered the first two charges.
He also said documents from the US made no mention of what evidence they had against Snowden, a requirement for Hong Kong courts to move ahead with a provisional arrest.
Yuen chronicled the process of how Hong Kong had been dealing with a US request for the provisional arrest of Snowden starting from June 15. He rejected US suggestions that Hong Kong had been employing delaying tactics.
“We had not been deliberately delaying the process. All along, we have acted in full accordance with the law,” Yuen said.
“And any suggestion that we deliberately let Mr Snowden get away and had done anything to obstruct normal operations is totally untrue.”
He said that on June 17, Hong Kong e-mailed the US Department of Justice, saying that it was drafting a list of questions for clarifications and further details needed to process the request.
Yuen said that on June 21 – two days before Snowden left — the Security Bureau wrote to the US government asking it to clarify reports that the US had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong.
On the same afternoon, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice e-mailed and sent by speed-post to the US its request for further information to support the US request for the provisional arrest of Snowden.
As of Tuesday, Hong Kong had not received a reply from the US to this request.