TODAY   |  June 23, 2013

NSA leaker Snowden flees Hong Kong

Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency who has been charged with espionage, left Hong Kong, where he has been hiding out. The Hong Kong government said the U.S. extradition request did not comply with the law, which gave Snowden an opportunity to leave. NBC’s Ian Williams reports.

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>>> news. edward snowden , the former national security agency contractor who admitted leaking top top secret details about government surveillance programs is on the move this morning. he left hong kong overnight on his way to moscow , but that's not his final stop apparently. we have three reports this morning. let's begin with ian williams . he's in hong kong with the very latest. ian, what can you tell us?

>> reporter: good morning, lester . well, edward snowden left hong kong early this morning after five weeks here on a flight we believe from moscow . the hong kong government in a statement said he left volume tarot and according to hong kong law they said they could do nothing to stop him. there wasn't an arrest warrant taken out for him, so they had to let him leave. now they blame that on sloppy american paperwork. they say the request for a provisional arrest warrant did not conform to the legal standards that hong kong needed, so they needed to rush that to the u.s. for further clarification. that gave snowden an opportunity, a window, to leave, if you like, and there was nothing, they say, they could do to stop him, lester .

>> he also, one of his final leaks, had to do with the american surveillance of chinese phone calls. might that have changed things and given him an opening to leave?

>> reporter: well, there's a possibility that both the hong kong government and the chinese government just decided that this whole thing had become too embarrassing, that they didn't want to witness what would have been a very long and complicated extradition process. there are already questions being asked this morning as to whether or not the hong kong government was act iing in good faith because usually these requests for a provisional arrest warrant a formality. they are normally processed very qui quickly. now clearly there was an opportunity, a window afforded for him to leave. and one question is whether, of cour course, the authorities gave him a little push through that window wanting to avoid any embarrassment. it certainly seems to contradict what he had been saying about whether he would stay here, slug it out and fight extradition. as far as we know his first destination is moscow , lester .

>> all right, ian williams in hong kong for us this