A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the U.S. government was entitled to any proceeds former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden earns from his recently published memoir Permanent Record because Snowden violated the terms of his employment contract with the U.S. government in publishing the book. The court found that the whistleblower responsible for what’s believed to be the biggest security breach in U.S. history failed to submit his manuscript to pre-publication review as was required by the employment contract signed with the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. The U.S. government sued to prevent Snowden profiting from the book, but did not try to stop it from being published in the first place.
Snowden argued that the contents of the book, by the time of publication, were already part of the public domain and that it was unreasonable to expect the U.S. government to render a good faith assessment of potentially classified material in the book in a timely manner. U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, however, disagreed and ruled that Snowden, who was charged with espionage in 2013 and resides in Russia to avoid prosecution, was in breach of his employment contract that requires authors to get approval for material “containing any mention of intelligence data or activities, or any other information or material which is … known to be classified.” “The contractual language of the Secrecy Agreements is unambiguous,” O’Grady wrote. “Snowden accepted employment and benefits conditioned upon prepublication review obligations.”
This is not the first time the U.S. government has successfully gone after authors believed to be in breach of their secrecy clauses. “In 2016, a former Navy SEAL who wrote a book about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden agreed to pay $6.8 million in royalties to the government,” the Washington Post reports. “The CIA fought up to the Supreme Court in 1980 to win royalties from a former analyst’s book on the failures of the Vietnam War [and] several writers from the intelligence community have been battling the government in court over the review process, saying it has become unconstitutionally politicized.”