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Justice Department sues Edward Snowden over memoir royalties

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to block the collection of royalties by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden connected to his newly-released memoir “Permanent Record.”

In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday, G. Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and a handful of other Justice Department officials alleged Snowden violated numerous non-disclosure agreements and promises to provide advance copies of materials ahead of publication.

These agreements were connected to Snowden’s work when he was employed as a government contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) from the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, the lawsuit said.

Snowden became a household name when he was identified as the leaker of a large cache of sensitive and classified documents to filmmaker Laura Poitras, journalists Glenn Greenwald and Barton Gellman and others. In mid-2013, the trio began publishing news reports and videos based on the documents, many of which detailed once-clandestine NSA surveillance programs, some of which were illegal under domestic and international laws.

The disclosures prompted citizens and private industries to take a closer look at their security practices. Several technology companies strengthened encryption mechanisms as a result of certain disclosures made by Snowden that revealed federal intelligence officials were secretly gathering the real-time online activity of private citizens by exploiting security loopholes in popular services offered by Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and others.

Those revelations angered government officials who have charged Snowden with causing unprecedented amounts of damage to national security operations at home and abroad.

Snowden, who was living in Hawaii while working as a NSA contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, fled to Hong Kong in early 2013, then to Russia where he was granted political asylum after American authorities canceled his passport. He has lived in Russia ever since, though recent media reports spurred by the release of his memoir said Snowden has expressed a desire to live under asylum in France.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday “is separate from the criminal charges brought against Snowden for his alleged disclosures of classified information,” a press release issued by the Justice Department said. “This lawsuit is a civil action, and based solely on Snowden’s failure to comply with the clear pre-publication review obligations included in his signed non-disclosure agreements.”

The lawsuit also names the book’s publisher as co-defendants in the suit. It requests the federal court to immediately issue a restraining order requiring publisher MacMillan and its subsidiaries that would require the company to immediately turn over any financial gains from the book, which went on sale Tuesday morning.

MacMillan did not provide a comment when reached by reporters early Tuesday morning. But by afternoon, Snowden himself was tweeting about the lawsuit — and he considers it a badge of honor.

“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,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “The publisher should print excerpts from the government’s furious objection to the publication of this book on the cover of every copy. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a book that both the CIA and the NSA consider too dangerous to be read.”


In a separate statement, Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents Snowden, said the book as published “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. “But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified.”

Wizner continued that his client hoped the lawsuit would generate renewed interest in the subject of mass government surveillance and “continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that [Snowden’s] actions helped inspire.”

“Permanent Record” was listed as the number one book in the genre of “politics on privacy and surveillance” on Amazon when reviewed by The Desk Tuesday afternoon.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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