HONG KONG — The request from the United States that Hong Kong detain Edward J. Snowden, who has been accused of stealing government secrets, before it seeks his return to America is likely to set off a tangled and protracted fight, with Mr. Snowden and his legal advisers having multiple tools to delay or thwart his being surrendered to American officials.
Mr. Snowden’s exact location was unclear Saturday, though he was believed to be hiding in a safe house in Hong Kong after leaving a hotel room two weeks ago upon revealing that he was the one who had leaked details of American surveillance efforts to the media. Hong Kong police officials would not comment Saturday about Mr. Snowden’s whereabouts.
Stephen Vickers, who oversaw police criminal intelligence in Hong Kong before Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, said Saturday that the Hong Kong police had certainly figured out where Mr. Snowden was hiding and should be able to detain him once Hong Kong government lawyers determined that the charges Mr. Snowden faced in the United States were also legal offenses in Hong Kong.
“I have no doubt whenever the government decides to take action, they will pick him up fast,” said Mr. Vickers, who now runs a risk consulting firm.