HONG KONG -- Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs, has few options to stay one step ahead of the authorities while in apparent hiding.
One possibility is to seek asylum in a place that does not have an extradition pact with the United States -- there are a few in Asia a short flight away from Hong Kong where he was last spotted, but none where he is guaranteed refuge.
On Tuesday the 29-year-old Snowden's whereabouts were unknown, a day after he checked out of a trendy hotel in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong. But large photos of his face were splashed on most Hong Kong newspapers with headlines such as "Deep Throat Hides in HK," and "World's Most Wanted Man Breaks Cover in Hong Kong."
The coverage is likely to increase the chances of him being recognized although he could still blend with the city's tens of thousands of expatriates from the United States, Britain, Australia and Europe.
If and when the Justice Department charges him -- and it's not certain when that will be -- its next step will likely be to ask the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, for a provisional request to arrest him pending extradition to the United States.
Assuming Snowden is still in Hong Kong, the judicial proceedings for an extradition request could take a year, and once completed it would be up to Hong Kong's leader, known as the chief executive, to decide on handing over Snowden, said Michael Blanchflower, a Hong Kong lawyer with three decades of experience in extradition cases.
"Ultimately it is his decision," he said.
But even if the chief executive allows the extradition, the fugitive can request a judicial review and those decisions could be appealed up through three court levels, Blanchflower said.
Although a semi-autonomous part of China, the former British colony has an independent justice system based on the British legal structure.
One option for Snowden would be to claim he is the object of political persecution, and fight the issue in the courts to avoid extradition. He could argue he would be subject to cruel and humiliating treatment in the United States. Hong Kong changed its regulations six months ago to require that a court consider cruel and humiliating treatment and not simply torture when considering extradition requests.
Meanwhile, the father of the girlfriend of Snowden described the leaker of national secrets as a shy man with convictions, but said Tuesday he's "still shocked" by the news about him.
Jonathan Mills, speaking to reporters Tuesday evening outside his home in Laurel, Md., described Snowden as "very nice. Shy, and reserved."
"He's always had strong convictions of right and wrong, and it kind of makes sense. But still shocked," Mills said, describing his reaction to the news about Snowden.
Mills also said his daughter, Lindsay, who has been dating Snowden for four or five years, is holding on amid the national controversy.
She is doing "as well as could be expected, and that's all I have to say," Mills said.
-- The Associated Press