The man who leaked details of a top-secret US surveillance programme drops out of sight in Hong Kong, as Washington calls for aggressive prosecution.
Ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden worked as a contractor at the National Security Agency before leaking details of the US monitoring phone calls and internet data from large companies such as Google and Facebook.
Mr Snowden reportedly checked out of his Hong Kong hotel hours after going public in a Guardian video on Sunday. His current whereabouts are unknown.
His disclosures have sent shockwaves across Washington, with calls made for his extradition and prosecution, but some supporters have flocked to his cause online, with more than 25,000 people signing a petition urging Obama to pardon him.
Officials in Hong Kong were cautious in discussing the developing situation. Snowden told the Guardian he fled to Hong Kong believing it had a strong culture of supporting freedom of speech.
However, the former British colony has an extradition treaty with the United States and local officials have suggested Snowden may have miscalculated.
“We do have bilateral agreements with the US and we are duty-bound to comply with these agreements. Hong Kong is not a legal vacuum, as Mr Snowden might have thought,” said Regina Ip, Hong Kong’s former security secretary.
Mr Snowden claims he turned documents over to the Washington Post and the Guardian in a bid to expose the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance of phone and internet data.
He has expressed some interest in seeking asylum in Iceland but would face a 20-hour flight from Hong Kong to the country, and local politicians have suggested there is no assurance he will not be extradited.
Meanwhile Mr Snowden’s girlfriend has written about her heartbreak after he left their home in Hawaii to go on the run. Linday Mills, who describes herself as a “pole-dancing super hero” wrote a blogpost describing her grief, the day after Mr Snowden acknowledged his role as whistleblower: “My world has opened and closed all at once. Leaving me lost at sea without a compass.”
Throughout her blog, her boyfriend is referred to only as “E”.
The website hosting her blog and pictures of Ms Mills dancing and posing in a tutu, was unavailable on Tuesday afternoon.
“As I type this on my tear-streaked keyboard I’m reflecting on all the faces that have graced my path,” she wrote. “The ones I laughed with. The ones I’ve held. The one I’ve grown to love the most. And the ones I never got to bid adieu. But sometimes life doesn’t afford proper goodbyes.”
As a youth growing up in Washington, Mr Snowden dropped out of high school and joined the military with the idea of helping the US war effort in Iraq. He left after breaking both his legs in a training exercise.
Pentagon records show he enlisted in the army reserves as a special forces recruit in May 2004 and left just four months later without completing his training.
He later landed his first job at the University of Maryland working at a covert NSA facility near the campus, before joining the CIA in information technology security.
In recent years he returned to Washington’s suburbs before taking his final assignment in Hawaii.
In his dealings with the Washington Post he took the codename Verax. Ewen MacAskill, one of the Guardian journalists who worked on the story, described him as “very intelligent”.
The journalist added that he was “always scared that someone would knock on the door and he’d be taken away.”