The former US intelligence contractor who
claimed to have leaked details of top-secret US government
surveillance programmes is the target of a criminal probe, FBI
director Robert Mueller said Thursday.
"The individual who has admitted making these disclosures ... is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation," Mueller told a public hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee.
"These disclosures have caused significant harm to our nation and to our safety. We're taking all necessary steps to hold the person responsible for these disclosures."
Mueller said he could not comment publicly on details of an active investigation.
Edward Snowden announced Sunday from Hong Kong that he was the source behind newspaper reports of US government surveillance programmes that gathered vast telephone records and internet data.
Snowden, who has said he will remain in Hong Kong to fight any attempt to extradite him to the US, was fired Tuesday from his job as a network administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton, a large government contracting firm that works for the National Security Agency. The NSA specializes in electronic intelligence.
Earlier Thursday in Beijing China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Snowden's presence in Hong Kong.
"We have noted relevant reports. Unfortunately, we have no information to offer," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said when asked about Snowden.
The United States has not asked Hong Kong to extradite him.
Speaking to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post on Wednesday, Snowden said he wanted to "stay and fight the United States government in the courts because I have faith in Hong Kong's rule of law."
"My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate," he told the newspaper.
Nineteen Hong Kong-based human rights group planned to rally supporters on Saturday to "protect Snowden," defend free speech, oppose his extradition and "uphold Hong Kong law."
Hua said China was "opposed to all forms of cyber attacks" and "strongly advocated cyber security."
It planned to hold "constructive dialogue with relevant countries" on cyber security, she said.
Hua gave no indication of whether the ruling Communist Party might try to intervene in any legal proceedings involving Snowden in Hong Kong courts.
Courts in Hong Kong enjoy broad independence under the Basic Law, a mini-constitution introduced following the 1997 handover of the territory's sovereignty from Britain to China.
Courts in mainland China normally follow the direction of the Communist Party's legal affairs offices.
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