Justice Department sues Edward Snowden over publication of new memoir

The government argues the book violates the nondisclosure agreements its says Snowden signed with the CIA and NSA.
Image: Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden in Moscow speaking with Brian Williams on Sept. 16, 2019.MSNBC

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By Tom Winter and Daniel Arkin

The Department of Justice has sued Edward Snowden over the publication of his new memoir, arguing the book violates the nondisclosure agreements it says he signed with the CIA and National Security Agency. Snowden is a former NSA contractor who leaked secret documents about the government's secret intelligence collection programs.

"The lawsuit alleges that Snowden published his book without submitting it to the agencies for pre-publication review, in violation of his express obligations under the agreements he signed," the Justice Department said in a news release Tuesday.

The Justice Department said it is not seeking to stop the release of the book, which is titled "Permanent Record" and was published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. Instead, the department said it would seek to recover any proceeds Snowden earns from the book, which was published Tuesday.

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The suit also names Macmillan, solely to ensure that no revenue from the book is transferred to Snowden or at his direction while he lives in exile in Russia, out of the grasp of the U.S., where he faces espionage charges that could land him behind bars.

"Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

"Permanent Record" reveals new details about Snowden’s decision in 2013 to steal a trove of files about the NSA's bulk collection of phone and internet metadata and leak those documents to journalists at The Guardian and The Washington Post.

In an interview with MSNBC's Brian Williams on Monday, Snowden defended his actions, as he has in previous interviews. He stressed that his goal was not to destroy the NSA, but instead "reform it."

Snowden's lawyer Ben Wizner, said in a statement Tuesday that the book does not contain any government secrets that have not been published before. The attorney also said the book was not submitted to the government for review because Snowden did not believe it would act in "good faith."

“Mr. Snowden wrote this book to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire," Wizner said. "He hopes that today’s lawsuit by the United States government will bring the book to the attention of more readers throughout the world.”

Wizner is also director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

Nick Ramsey contributed.