HONG KONG — The American intelligence contractor who disclosed US government surveillance programs fled to Hong Kong because he believed he wouldn’t get a fair trial in his home country, the journalist who broke the story said Monday.
Glenn Greenwald, with the British-based Guardian newspaper, said Edward Snowden chose the semiautonomous region of China because it was the least bad option open to him.
Greenwald said in Hong Kong that Snowden wants to remain out of the ‘‘clutches’’ of the US government for as long as possible but considers it likely that he won’t succeed.
Snowden says he worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency and the CIA. He allowed The Guardian and the Washington Post on Sunday to reveal his identity as the source of a series of top-secret documents outlining two NSA surveillance programs.
On Tuesday, Greenwald said there will be more “significant revelations” to come from the documents. He said a decision was being made on when to release the next story based on the information provided by Snowden.
The Guardian reported that Snowden arrived in Hong Kong on May 20. He checked out of the Mira Hotel on Monday, and his next location was unclear.
The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the leaks at the request of the NSA.
‘‘If the Justice Department does end up indicting him, which almost certainly it will — it’s basically inevitable at this point — he doesn’t really trust the judicial system in the United States to give him a fair trial,’’ Greenwald said.
‘‘I think if he trusted the political system and the political culture in the United States, he would have just remained there and said, ‘I did what I did and I want to defend it,’ ’’ Greenwald said in an interview.
He said Snowden chose Hong Kong because it has a history of strong political activism, free speech, and respect for the rule of law. But, he added, once Snowden decided to leak the information about the US surveillance programs, ‘‘all of the options, as he put it, are bad options. There were no good options for him.’’
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 but was allowed to retain a high degree of autonomy and its own legal system. It has an extradition treaty with the United States that contains some exceptions, including for crimes deemed political.
Greenwald said Snowden, 29, had watched with concern the court martial of Bradley Manning, the US Army private on trial for handing a trove of classified material to WikiLeaks, and it had raised fears for him about secrecy and ‘‘abridgement of due process.’’
Snowden believes he will eventually end up with the same fate as Manning, he said.
Snowden told The Guardian that he hoped for asylum in Iceland, which he believes to be a champion of Internet freedom. Greenwald said that as far as he knows, Snowden had not filed a claim for asylum anywhere.
‘‘There’s a lot of history in terms of small Scandinavian countries or small countries in Europe succumbing to US demands and doing things that are contrary to their values or even their law,’’ Greenwald said.
Icelandic Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Tomasson said the government has not had contact with Snowden.
‘‘We have not received any application, and so his idea of maybe seeking asylum here is for us just speculation,’’ he said.
To apply for asylum, Snowden must be on Icelandic soil. Iceland has a longstanding extradition treaty with the United States, though it has never been used to deport an American citizen.
The country has previously welcomed eccentric chess master Bobby Fischer, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and online freedom advocates belonging to the Pirate Party.
In 2005, Iceland risked the anger of the United States by offering citizenship to Fischer, who was wanted on charges of breaking international sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a chess match there in 1992. Fischer lived in Iceland until his death in 2008.
The country also was an early base for the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.
The Pirate Party, an advocate of digital innovation and media freedom, won three of the 63 seats in Iceland’s Parliament in April’s national election. Its members are pushing Icelandic authorities to extend a hand to Snowden.
‘‘We are ready to assist him if he comes to Iceland,’’ said Smari McCarthy, a Pirate Party member. He said the group was planning to meet with the interior minister to discuss a possible asylum request.
It’s unclear how Snowden, who earned $200,000 a year working for the Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., was funding his stay in Hong Kong. Greenwald said he had been ‘‘living on credit cards essentially for the last several weeks.’’
But Greenwald added that since Snowden revealed his identity, he has been contacted by ‘‘countless people’’ offering to pay for ‘‘anything he might need.’’