US sues Edward Snowden and publishers over new memoir

The suit calls for the seizure of any profits received from the book.

September 17, 2019, 3:58 PM

The U.S. government has filed a civil lawsuit against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the publishers of his new memoir, demanding they hand over profits for failing to submit the book to intelligence agencies for pre-publication review.

The lawsuit, filed by U.S. Attorney Zachary Terwilliger in the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Snowden violated non-disclosure agreements signed with the N.S.A. and C.I.A. during his employment by not turning over the manuscript for "Permanent Record," which was released on Tuesday.

Snowden, who fled the U.S. in 2013 and has been living in Russia, reacted to the lawsuit on Twitter by posting a link promoting his book's release and a statement from an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review," said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, who is representing Snowden. "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," Wizner added. "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 publisher Macmillan and its parent company Holtzbrinck Publishing Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News on Tuesday.

Snowden still faces charges of espionage and theft of government secrets following his leak of thousands of highly classified government documents that detailed extensively the operations of several United States' surveillance programs in 2013.

Long vilified by current and former members of the intelligence community, Snowden has continued his advocacy for government transparency and pro-whistleblower measures from his home in Moscow. But in the civil suit filed Tuesday, federal prosecutors say public remarks where he has discussed his tenure with the C.I.A. and N.S.A. amount to a violation of his employment agreements.

“The United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees’ and contractors’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreements," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said Tuesday. "We will not permit individuals to enrich themselves, at the expense of the United States, without complying with their pre-publication review obligations.”

The government has had some success in the past when demanding profits from employees, including military officials, who they say have violated their signed non-disclosure agreements.

In 2016, former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonette was forced to pay more than $6.6 million and any future royalties to the U.S. government for his book "No Easy Day," detailing his experience in the Osama bin Laden raid.

Bissonnette acknowledged in a settlement that the book, which was found to have contained some classified information, was never submitted for a pre-publication review.

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