Policemen stand opposite the Consulate of the United States in Hong Kong - Reuters
One of America's top lawmakers has demanded the extradition of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower at the centre of the US National Security Agency (NSA) internet data tapping scandal.
Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, said that no country should grant asylum to Snowden, who is believed to be holed up in a Hong Kong hotel.
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Snowden reportedly travelled to Hong Kong in mid-May from where he revealed top-secret documents over the NSA's covert Prism spy programme. The whistleblower, an ex-CIA adviser, did not "expect to see home again," according to an interview with The Guardian.
Although the Obama administration has been pushed on to the defensive by the revelations of the past few days, the White House has not officially commented.
King said: "If Edward Snowden did leak the NSA data as he claims, the United States government must prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date.
"The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum. This is a matter of extraordinary consequence to American intelligence."
The US has extradition agreements with Hong Kong with an exception for political offences. According to the US-Hong Kong Extradition Treaty signed in 1997, Hong Kong has the "right of refusal when surrender implicates the defence, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy" of the People's Republic of China.
"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions [but] I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant," said Snowden.
Snowden, 29, has attracted global support for his fight to expose Washington's mass surveillance of American citizens.
A former NSA official who has also leaked information, Thomas Drake, said: "He's [Snowden] extraordinarily brave and courageous."
Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department attorney who champions whistleblowers' causes, said: "As a whistleblower myself, this is one of the most significant leakers in my lifetime and in US history."
Radack hopes that the disclosures will turn into "a watershed moment that could change the war on whistleblowers and the broader war on information in our country".
"Any person who has a security clearance knows that he or she has an obligation to protect classified information and abide by the law," said Shawn Turner, spokesperson for the NSA chief James Clapper.
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