Noted Rule-Follower Edward Snowden Failed to Get Permission to Publish His Book or Give Speeches

A stack of copies of the book Permanent Record by Edward Snowden.
The DOJ claims that the U.S. government is entitled to all the profits from Snowden’s new memoir Permanent Record because he violated nondisclosure agreements he signed while working with the CIA and NSA.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden on Tuesday. Among other things, the DOJ claims that the U.S. government is entitled to all the profits from his new memoir Permanent Record because he violated nondisclosure agreements he signed while working with the CIA and NSA. The department also named Snowden’s publishers—MacMillan Publishers, Henry Holt and Co., and Holtzbrinck Publishers—as defendants in the suit and requested that the court freeze any assets related to the memoir. The publishers, which have generally kept the project under wraps, have not released any financial details for the book.

“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”

The Justice Department is alleging that “Snowden published his book without submitting it to the agencies for pre-publication review,” which it claims was required by the nondisclosure agreements he signed. The department contends that Snowden also broke his nondisclosure agreement by giving public speeches on intelligence matters. Snowden has lived in Russia for the past six years to avoid federal criminal charges connected to his leaking of information on the U.S.’s PRISM surveillance program. After the suit was filed, his lawyer, Ben Wizner, argued that it’s irrational for the U.S. government to consider already-public facts in the book to be classified.

“This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations,” Wizner said in a statement. “Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review.” Early reviews indicate that the book does not in fact contain any major new revelations.

The lawsuit doesn’t seek to restrict the publishing or distribution of the memoir, which could run afoul of the First Amendment. Separate from the Snowden case, the ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University also filed a lawsuit in April arguing that the government’s prepublication review system, in which intelligence employees and military personnel must gain approval to write or speak publicly about their work, is also unconstitutional.

Snowden acknowledged the lawsuit in a tweet thread advertising his book, writing in part, “It is hard to think of a greater stamp of authenticity than the US government filing a lawsuit claiming your book is so truthful that it was literally against the law to write.”

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