HONG KONG—A media manhunt began in Hong Kong on Monday morning as residents awoke to discover the man claiming responsibility for a series of sensational leaks about U.S. spying programs last week was holed up in a local luxury hotel.
The U.S. Consulate in the city, which Edward Snowden called a CIA station in a news interview Sunday, referred questions back to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington.
The six hotels that matched the description given by The Guardian, a British newspaper, and have the U.S. Consulate “up the road,” as Snowden referenced in his interview, each denied having a guest by his name.
The Hong Kong government also had no immediate comment, and Iceland’s honorary consul could not be immediately reached.
Snowden told The Guardian why he chose to flee to Hong Kong: “Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People’s Republic of China. It has a strong tradition of free speech.”
Despite close ties between Hong Kong and the U.S., the Hong Kong government is unikely to take action against Snowden.
“I think they won’t do anything ... if he’s here legally and lawfully,” said Steve Vickers, a former head of criminal intelligence for the Hong Kong police.
Vickers said Hong Kong would be inclined to act if an arrest warrant is issued for a charge that is also a crime in Hong Kong or if the U.S. makes a request through Interpol, the global organization for law enforcement cooperation. He said he did not expect Washington to pursue either option, adding that Interpol itself explicitly stays away from political and military cases.
While the Chinese government would have an interest in talking to Snowden, Vickers said the matter was now too high profile for Beijing to reach out to him.