A former CIA worker who has spilled the beans on a secret US program is lying low in a Hong Kong hotel as an extradition clamor looms.
Edward Snowden, 29, has revealed he is the whistle-blower behind leaked details of a massive plan to monitor internet users. He fears it could "mark my end."
Snowden flew to Hong Kong on May 20 after copying the last set of documents he intended to disclose at the National Security Agency's office in Hawaii, The Guardian newspaper said, and is now holed up in a hotel room.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, former security chief, said yesterday Snowden should leave the city.
The US consulate and the Hong Kong Security Bureau refused to comment, as did the consulate of Iceland, where Snowden has said he may seek asylum.
Snowden, who had been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years, admitted his whistle- blowing role in a video interview posted on The Guardian's website.
"My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," Snowden said from Hong Kong.
He said he has gone public because he cannot "allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."
The Washington Post also revealed details from its correspondence with Snowden, including his bleak assessment of his future. "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions and that the return of this information to the public marks my end," he wrote, warning the reporter he too was in danger.
Snowden worked for the NSA as an employee of outside contractors, including Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton.
Iceland said yesterday Snowden would have to travel to the country to be able to submit an asylum application.
But the head of Iceland's Directorate of Immigration said no application has been received.
Hong Kong may not prove to be a haven for Snowden but any extradition bid will be long and complicated, say experts.
Ip said the administration is "obliged to comply with the terms of agreements" with the US government, which include the extradition of fugitives.
"It's actually in his best interest to leave Hong Kong," she said.
Democratic Party lawmaker and lawyer James To Kun-sun said Snowden can try to seek asylum in Hong Kong from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to avoid being extradited to the United States.
But Hong Kong could also refuse to extradite him if Beijng wanted to keep him, according to a treaty between the United States and Hong Kong signed almost two decades ago.
A spokeswoman for the SAR government said last night it would not comment on individual cases and "all cases will be handled in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong."