Hong Kong: Edward Snowden's welcoming refuge

(CBS News) It's been a week now since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden identified himself as the leaker of top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs. Snowden came out of the shadows and into the spotlight in Hong Kong, where he's getting a pretty friendly reception, so far. Our Seth Doane has filed this Sunday Journal:


The story of man-vs.-Big-Brother certainly resonates here. This weekend, hundreds of Hong Kongers took to the streets.

It was a show of support for Edward Snowden, who chose China, of all places, to seek refuge -- and turn the debate over hacking and cyber-security upside-down.

What does this do to the U.S.-China relationship?

"Well, it certainly complicates it," said David Zweig, a political science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Hundreds of supporters of Edward Snowden, who leaked top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs, march to the Consulate General of the United States in Hong Kong on Saturday, June 15, 2013.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung

"America has tried to make China look bad on the issue of cyber-security," said Zweig. "But yet, here's a guy who knows that America is also not so clean on this issue."

It was the U.S. that had put China's cyber-spying at the top of the agenda, in a meeting earlier this month between Presidents Xi and Obama. But on the day they met, the British newspaper The Guardian broke the explosive news of the National Security Agency's top-secret PRISM program. It alleged the U.S. government had direct access to spy on the Internet communications of Americans.

Columnist Glenn Greenwald got the scoop.

"Why was the release of the information, on your part, timed as it was?" Doane asked.

"It was just a matter of when we got the documents and when, journalistically, we felt like we were ready to publish the stories with the kind of confidence level that we wanted," Greenwald said.

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The story of how Glenn Greenwald first met Edward Snowden would trickle out later, and only add to the mystery. Greenwald didn't even know what Snowden looked like, so the 29-year-old told him to meet him in a specific part of a hotel in Hong Kong, and ask loudly for directions.

Snowden said he could be identified because he would be the person holding a Rubik's cube.

Today, Snowden remains in hiding while the U.S. considers how to get him extradited to America.

Why would Snowden pick Hong Kong?

"We have a relationship with the mainland whereby our autonomy is protected by constitution," said Hong Kong lawyer Simon Young. "We have an independent judiciary, and, most interestingly, we have a fairly robust system of asylum law."

While there were calls this weekend to protect Snowden, most legal experts here say it's likely he will be returned to the U.S. -- where he could face prison time for revealing America's spy secrets.

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