U.S. Formally Seeking Extradition of Edward Snowden

The Guardian via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Following Friday's filing of espionage charges against intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, the United States announced it was formally seeking extradition from authorities in Hong Kong.

The extradition, based on the criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia and in accordance with the US/ Hong Kong Agreement for the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders, may prove to be a complicated process. Hong Kong operates under its own legal system but the Chinese government in Beijing still maintains a degree of authority and could intervene, either behind the scenes or even publicly.

Before a formal extradition can even begin, Snowden needs to be arrested. Once arrested, Snowden can seek asylum, and a lengthy appeals process could go all the way up to the high court in Hong Kong.

"China will want this process to play out in Hong Kong," said Ken Lieberthal, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution. "Where Beijing could intervene is, if Hong Kong decides to extradite, Snowden appeals, at the end of the day China can say do not extradite."

"Extradition can, of course, be a lengthy legal process,” a senior law enforcement source told ABC News. “But we are confident, based on the strong history of law enforcement cooperation between Hong Kong and the U.S., that at the end of that process, Hong Kong will extradite Snowden."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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