No sign of NSA leaker as U.S. investigation builds steam

Updated 9:59 PM EDT, Tue June 11, 2013

Story highlights

Rep. Peter King tells AC360 that journalists also should be prosecuted

FBI building case against the self-avowed NSA leaker; source says charges not imminent

The ex-NSA contractor says he gave journalists documents on secret surveillance programs

Civil lawsuits say U.S. surveillance programs are unconstitutional

Hong Kong CNN —  

The man who acknowledged leaking details of classified U.S. surveillance programs seemed to melt into the streets of Hong Kong as FBI investigators worked Tuesday to build a case against him and criticism of the programs continued to mount.

Edward Snowden, 29, apparently checked out of his Hong Kong hotel room Monday and has not been seen since. A reporter who helped develop stories from the information Snowden leaked said he believes the former contractor for the National Security Agency remains there.

U.S. authorities are preparing charges against Snowden, a law enforcement source told CNN on Tuesday. But they are not imminent, the source said.

As authorities investigated, one U.S. congressman told CNN that journalists who published the leaked information should be punished.

And the first civil lawsuits were filed against federal officials, arguing that the surveillance programs are unconstitutional.

Snowden, a former computer security contractor, acknowledged in a Guardian newspaper interview that he gave journalists classified documents about U.S. surveillance of telephone and Internet traffic.

The FBI has been investigating the leaks, but it was unclear Tuesday how far along the agency was.

Snowden told the Guardian that he expects to be charged under the Espionage Act and said he traveled to Hong Kong in hopes that state’s commitment to free speech would prevent his extradition to the United States.

Will journalists face prosecution?

On Tuesday, one lawmaker told CNN’s AC360 that journalists tied to the leaks should also be prosecuted.

“If they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude,” said Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who leads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism.

“There is an obligation both moral, but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security,” he said. “As a practical matter, I guess there have been in the past several years a number of reporters who have been prosecuted under (the Espionage Act).”

As for Snowden, King said there’s no doubt he should face charges.

“I think what he’s done has been incredible damage to our country. It’s going to put American lives at risk,” he said.

The congressman did not provide specific examples of how the leaked information damages national security, but argued that it helps enemies of the United States.

“Al Qaeda and its allies now know with great exactitude exactly what we’re doing,” he said, “and how we’re doing it.”

Surveillance debate

Snowden’s disclosures have fueled new debate about the U.S. government’s collection of records of domestic telephone calls and overseas Internet activity in the global hunt for terrorists and criminals.

Civil liberties advocates say the measures are unacceptable intrusions. But supporters say they are legal and have yielded evidence that has helped stop terror plots.

NSA snooping triggers lawsuits