The Justice Department on Sunday confirmed that it is conducting a criminal investigation into the leak of classified information detailing the National Security Agency’s phone and internet surveillance programs.
"The Department of Justice is in the initial stages of an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by an individual with authorized access,” said DOJ spokeswoman Nanda Chitre in a statement to The Hill.
“Consistent with long standing Department policy and procedure and in order to protect the integrity of the investigation, we must decline further comment," she added.
The DOJ statement comes hours after The Guardian newspaper released a video interview with Edward Snowden, a 29-year old who claimed responsibility for being the source of the information about the NSA’s secret intelligence practices.
Snowden’s leaks led to the disclosure of an NSA program which used metadata from Verizon phone customers to track possible terror threats and a separate program, PRISM, which obtained in Internet data on foreign customers from American tech companies.
Snowden said he leaked the information because he disagreed with the agency’s surveillance practices.
“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” he said.
The administration on Saturday, before Snowden went public, said it intended to investigate the leaks and prosecute those responsible.
Snowden’s admission on Sunday brought quick calls for his arrest, with GOP Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) urging the government to “prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and begin extradition proceedings at the earliest date.”
“The United States must make it clear that no country should be granting this individual asylum,” King added.
Snowden is currently in Hong Kong and in his interview said he hoped to receive asylum.
“The only thing I can do is sit here and hope the Hong Kong government does not deport me,” he said.
The revelations sparked debate, with civil libertarians charging the programs violated the privacy of innocent Americans.
President Obama, however, defended the programs saying they were done in accordance with laws passed by Congress and essential to national security.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Sunday said only that they were assessing the “damage” caused by Snowden’s leaks, and directing any inquiries over possible criminal charges to the DOJ.
Justin Sink contributed.