The U.S. has sued whistleblower Edward Snowden over his new memoir, alleging he published the book in violation of non-disclosure agreements signed with both the CIA and NSA.
Edward Snowden, a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), is best known for a 2013 incident where he leaked thousands of classified documents about top-secret surveillance programs to journalists that shed light on U.S. spying efforts. However, the lawsuit is separate from the criminal charges brought against Snowden for his alleged disclosures of classified information.
The lawsuit instead revolves around Snowden’s book entitled “Permanent Record,” published Tuesday, which outlines Snowden’s life and his story behind the 2013 leak. The U.S. alleges that Snowden published his book without submitting it to the CIA and NSA for pre-publication review, in violation of “express obligations under the agreements he had signed.”
“Edward Snowden has violated an obligation he undertook to the United States when he signed agreements as part of his employment by the CIA and as an NSA contractor,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, in a Tuesday statement. “The United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees’ and contractors’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreements, including their pre-publication review obligations.”
The lawsuit ultimately aims to seize any proceeds from Snowden’s memoir, naming the publishers of the book (MacMillan Publishers, Henry Holt and Co. and Holtzbrink Publishers) as defendants and ordering them to freeze any assets related to the book. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Snowden has given public speeches on intelligence-related matters, also in violation of his non-disclosure agreements.
“This lawsuit demonstrates that the Department of Justice does not tolerate these breaches of the public’s trust,” Hunt said. “We will not permit individuals to enrich themselves, at the expense of the United States, without complying with their pre-publication review obligations.”
Snowden for his part acknowledged the lawsuit in a tweet on Tuesday, saying: “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.”
The government of the United States has just announced a lawsuit over my memoir, which was just released today worldwide. This is the book the government does not want you to read: (link corrected) https://t.co/JS1AJ6QlXg
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 17, 2019
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and attorney for Snowden, argued that the book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations.
“Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review,” Wizner said in a statement. “But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified. Mr. Snowden wrote this book to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire. He hopes that today’s lawsuit by the United States government will bring the book to the attention of more readers throughout the world.”
The lawsuit is separate from an existing charge against Snowden by the U.S.: In 2013 after Snowden’s data leak the U.S. Department of Justice charged him for violating the Espionage Act and for stealing government property, for which he faces at least 30 years in jail. Snowden has argued that under the Espionage Act it is not possible to receive a fair trial.
Interested in the role of artificial intelligence in cybersecurity, for both offense and defense? Don’t miss our free Threatpost webinar, AI and Cybersecurity: Tools, Strategy and Advice, with senior editor Tara Seals and a panel of experts. Click here to register.