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Snowden to Damage US-China Ties: Former CIA Chief

A former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has said the fallout from the Edward Snowden case could be extremely damaging to U.S.-China relations.

Michael Hayden, principal at security consultancy the Chertoff Group and former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA), told CNBC on Wednesday that the Hong Kong government's refusal to hand over fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, would "absolutely" damage the progress the two nations have made so far towards a stronger relationship.

(Read More: McCain: Russia's Denials on Snowden Like Cold War)

"Actions have consequences. This is a country with whom we are attempting to build good relations in the long term for both of our peoples. If that country [China] pays so little attention to an item of such great interest to the U.S. that is bound to hurt that trajectory we want to be on," said Chertoff.

"Part of this is emotion, this is a great embarrassment for my country. But part of this is raw calculation," said Hayden referring to China's decision to let Snowden escape from Hong Kong.

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Snowden, who worked as a systems administrator at a U.S. National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, is facing espionage charges from the United States after leaking details about secret U.S. surveillance programs to the news media, Reuters reported.

Snowden is now reported to be in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has also refused to hand him over to U.S. authorities.

Experts on both sides have said the tirade will blow over soon and neither country would let relations deteriorate permanently after a successful meeting between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping just six weeks ago.

(Read More: US and China Agree to Hold Regular Talks on Hacking)

But Hayden said Hong Kong's refusal to comply with the U.S. had caused "great harm" in three ways.

Edward Snowden
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Edward Snowden

"There are three great harms from this: one, whatever it is he's leaking, [it is] tactical information not just to Al-Qaeda but to many adversaries of the U.S. Number two, it has done great damage for anyone who may want to cooperate with the U.S. in the future on any sensitive matter," said Hayden.

"The third, and in my mind it's the greatest of all - it is punishing American business in terms of international competition...They have been tarred with a very dark brush and very broad brush and that's very unfair," he added, referring to the reputational damage leaks of data could have on U.S. businesses operating abroad.

Snowden revealed himself as the source of documents outlining a massive effort by the U.S. NSA to track cell phone calls and monitor the email and internet traffic of virtually all Americans to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper.

There has been international speculation that the fugitive may not be awarded a fair trial in the U.S.

(Read More: Snowden Says He Can't Get a Fair Trial on NSA Leaks in US )

Hayden rebuked these claims by telling CNBC that Snowden would be given a fair trial if he were given up to U.S. authorities.

"We are a mature political people. He [Snowden] will be tried in front of a jury of his peers. He'll have a defense counsel and we'll hear the case," he said.

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