FORMER intelligence analyst Edward Snowden has been charged by US authorities after leaking details of the secret surveillance operation involving Britain’s spy agency GCHQ and its US equivalent, the National Security Agency (NSA).
Snowden was charged as allegations emerged that British eavesdropping agency GCHQ has stored huge amounts of internet data by accessing fibre-optic cables.
The 30-year-old whistleblower, who is thought to be holed up in Hong Kong, could face up to 30 years in jail after being charged with theft, espionage and theft of government property.
The NSA said that US officials have contacted authorities in Hong Kong seeking the extradition of Snowden, based on the criminal charges.
In the latest leak from Snowden, it was claimed last night that US authorities had hacked into Chinese mobile phone companies to access millions of private text messages.
The American has admitted providing information to the media about two highly classified NSA surveillance programmes.
A complaint filed at a US federal court said Snowden engaged in unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence information.
All three offences that he is charged with carry a
maximum ten-year prison penalty.
Snowden, who fled the US for Hong Kong after deciding to reveal the NSA’s secrets, told a newspaper he wanted to expose “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”.
The former CIA technical worker spent much of his early life in Maryland near the NSA headquarters. In 2003, he joined the US army and began training with the Special Forces, only to be discharged after breaking both his legs in a training
His first job with the NSA was as a security guard for one of the agency’s secret
facilities at the University of Maryland. He then worked on IT security at the CIA.
Despite his lack of formal qualifications, his computer wizardry allowed him to quickly rise through intelligence ranks.
By 2007, he was given a CIA post with diplomatic cover in Geneva. He left the CIA in 2009 and began working at the NSA again.