Believing his role would soon be exposed, Snowden fled last month to Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that enjoys relative autonomy from Beijing. His exact whereabouts were unknown Monday.
Although Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., the document has some exceptions, including for crimes deemed political. Any negotiations about his possible handover will involve Beijing, but some analysts believe China is unlikely to want to jeopardize its relationship with Washington over someone it would consider of little political interest.
Snowden also told The Guardian that he may seek asylum in Iceland, which has strong free-speech protections and a tradition of providing a haven for the outspoken and the outcast.
The leak came to light as Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is being tried in military court under federal espionage and computer fraud laws for releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other items. The most serious charge against him is aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. But the military operates under a different legal system.
The Obama administration must also now deal with the political and diplomatic fallout of the disclosures. Privacy laws across much of Western Europe are stricter than they are in the United States.
On Tuesday, the European Parliament, through its 27-nation executive arm, will debate the spy programs and whether they have violated local privacy protections. E.U. officials in Brussels pledged to seek answers from U.S. diplomats at a trans-Atlantic ministerial meeting in Dublin that begins Thursday.
"It would be unacceptable and would need swift action from the EU if indeed the U.S. National Security Agency were processing European data without permission," said Guy Verhofstadt, a leader in the Alde group of liberal parties.
Additionally, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Monday that Chancellor Angela Merkel would question President Barack Obama about the NSA program when he's in Berlin on June 18 for his first visit to the German capital as president. In Germany, privacy regulations are especially strict, and the NSA programs could tarnish a visit that both sides had hoped would reaffirm strong German-American ties.
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague was forced to deny allegations that the U.K. government had used information provided by the Americans to circumvent British laws. "We want the British people to have confidence in the work of our intelligence agencies and in their adherence to the law and democratic values," Hague told Parliament.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.