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Snowden disappears as US prepares charges against the whistleblower

Snowden checked out of the Hong Kong hotel room where he was hiding shortly after appearing in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

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Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked top secret documents revealing a vast surveillance program by the US government to the Guardian newspaper. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald interviewed Snowden in a hotel room in Hong Kong and released the video on Sunday June 10, 2013. (YouTube/Screengrab)

The United States government is reportedly preparing charges against NSA surveillance program leaker Edward Snowden.

Snowden checked out of his Hong Kong hotel room where he was hiding, shortly after appearing in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

His whereabouts are now unknown.

The release of the documents to the Guardian newspaper's Glenn Greenwald, showing extensive spying programs on both US citizens and internationally, has caused an uproar both in Washington and around the world.

The 29-year-old former National Security Agency contractor revealed documents outlining court-ordered domestic spying of Verizon business customers and a program called PRISM, that allegedly mines user data from major internet companies.

"These are sensitive classified information, they cause harm to our national security interests," said White House spokesman Jay Carney

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has said that Snowden committed an act of treason and should be prosecuted.

More from GlobalPost: Why Edward Snowden's flight to Hong Kong might be brilliant

The White House has not yet discussed the possibility of extraditing the former defense contractor, but it appears the Justice department will file charges.

"Whether Mr. Snowden remained in Hong Kong or fled to another country — like Iceland, where he has said he may seek asylum — the charges would strengthen the Justice Department’s hand if it tries to extradite him to the United States," the New York Times reported. "One government typically must charge a suspect before another government will turn him over." 

The NSA has denied that PRISM mines data and is rather an internal computer system.

Mass data seizures could be found to break the laws in foreign countries but also in the US as well.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Yale Law School filed a motion Monday to force the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to reveal its justification of the spy programs.

The ACLU wrote

The public has a right to know the legal justification for the government's sweeping surveillance—but, until now, those judicial opinions have remained a heavily guarded secret.

The European Parliament is planning a debate about surveillance programs and European officials have said they will seek answers from US diplomats about the extent of the program later this week.

Europeans can sue internet companies in court for control of their personal data, while no such mechanism exists in the US.

More from GlobalPost: Don't be a dictator: Obama edition

The Daily Beast reported that Snowden is now being hunted by what is known as the "Q" group, a security and counterintelligence directorate which serves as the NSA’s internal police force.

They have been tracking Snowden since he disappeared in May, and deemed him their prime suspect when the leaks initially occurred.

“There is complete freakout mode at the agency right now,” a former intelligence officer told The Daily Beast.

“There has never been anything like this in terms of the speed of referral of a crime report to the Justice Department. Normally this kind of thing takes weeks and weeks.”

Snowden has stated that he will seek asylum in Iceland, a country that has strong laws protecting internet freedom.

On Tuesday, a Kremlin spokesman said that Russia may consider offering Snowden asylum.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg wrote Monday in the Guardian that Snowden's efforts in exposing massive surveillance were laudable.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, still seeking asylum from Ecuador's embassy in London, also came to Snowden's defense, calling him a "hero" who "informed the public about one of the most serious events of the decade which was the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state." 

Assange spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper about Snowden's situation:

But not everyone thinks that what Snowden did was heroic.

His most vocal journalist detractor is New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, who thinks that what the leaker did was illegal and deplorable. 

"He is... a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison," Toobin wrote in a blog post titled "Edward Snowden is no hero."  

John Cassidy, Toobin's colleague at the New Yorker, goes to great lengths in a new piece published Monday to show why Toobin is dead wrong.

Last month, Wired wrote a piece offering their advice on how to leak to the press properly without getting caught, and their instructions are once again making their way around the internet.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130611/snowden-disappears-us-prepares-charges-against-t