Whistleblower Snowden leaves Hong Kong for third country

Hong Kong, June 23 (IANS) US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed about US spying on countries like India, Pakistan, and China and eavesdropping on its own citizens' conversations, has flown out of Hong Kong, BBC reported citing the Hong Kong government Sunday.

The US intelligence fugitive was due to arrive in Moscow Sunday evening, reported the South China Morning Post citing "credible sources". But, it said, Moscow would not be his final destination.

The 29-year-old intelligence analyst had leaked information about the US government's massive intelligence gathering programme.

"Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel," the Hong Kong government said in a statement.

The Russian foreign ministry said the former CIA agent Snowden might be travelling on a transit flight via Moscow.

"According to some reports, Snowden may be travelling via Moscow as a transit passenger," the ministry said, adding it was verifying the information.

Meanwhile, police at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport said it had no plan to detain Snowden, if he was holding valid visa, on arrival in Moscow.

"We have not received any instructions concerning this person. However, in order to enter Russian territory he should have a valid visa," Interfax news agency quoted a policeman at the airport as saying.

US authorities have charged the 29-year-old intelligence analyst with leaking information about the US government's massive programme, with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

He fled to Hong Kong in May after revealing details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

On Saturday, the White House contacted Hong Kong to try to arrange his extradition, but according to the Chinese territory's administration the documents submitted by Washington did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law".

Hong Kong requested for further information from the US Justice Department.

"As the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong," the statement said, adding Washington has been informed of Hong Kong's decision.

Snowden left the US after leaking details of the extensive US surveillance programme to Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post.

According to the Guardian, a snapshot of the Boundless Informant data, contained in a top secret NSA "global heat map", shows that in March 2013 the agency collected 97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide.

While the largest amount of intelligence was gathered from Iran, with more than 14 billion reports in that period, it was followed by 13.5 billion from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America's closest Arab allies, came third with 12.7 billion, Egypt fourth with 7.6 billion and India fifth with 6.3 billion.

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