Edward Snowden on How Getting Sued by the Government Resulted in a Best-Selling Book

The former CIA employee explains why he published his memoir without submitting it to the agency for review; a move that got him sued by the Department of Justice.
Sean Gallagher/Comedy Central
Edward Snowden appearing on 'The Daily Show' via video feed

Following the release of his tell-all book Permanent Record, Edward Snowden appeared Thursday night via video feed as a guest on The Daily Show, where he talked with host Trevor Noah about the memoir and getting sued by the government. 

After the former CIA employee leaked classified documents from the National Security Agency about government surveillance operations in 2013, Snowden sought asylum in Moscow. The preface of his book states, "The reason you’re reading this book is that I did a dangerous thing for a man in my position: I decided to tell the truth," Snowden writes. "I collected internal documents that gave evidence of the U.S. government’s lawbreaking and turned them over to a journalist, who vetted and published them to a scandalized world. This book is about what led up to that decision, the moral and ethical principles that informed it, and how they came to be — which means that it’s also about my life."

Snowden is now being sued by the Department of Justice, which filed a complaint this week in Virginia federal court, alleging that he "violated his non-disclosure obligations to the United States" by not having the book reviewed before it was published. 

During the show, Snowden explained his reaction to the lawsuit. "The nice thing about [getting sued] is, the book was not getting that much attention, it was like [number] 25 on the charts. And then the government said, 'We don't want you to read this book. Sue Snowden as fast as you can, do anything to stop it, stop it, stop it,' and now we're number 1, basically everywhere." Snowden then calls out the Attorney General, to whom he attributes the book's success. 

Noah responded, "The Attorney General has come out and said that you were supposed to pass this book for review, so as somebody who has worked in the defense space and with government secrets, you were meant to submit this book to them and they are saying they would have passed it if you had just followed the rules."

He then asked Snowden why he didn't follow the rules, to which Snowden responded with a joke, "First of all, I am a noted rule follower." He went on to say, "But while they are technically right, there's no oath of secrecy. A lot of people think there's an oath of secrecy; there's an oath of service, which is not to the agency, it's not to the government, it's to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

"But there is a secrecy agreement," Snowden continued, "and that's what he's talking about. It's called standard form 3-12, and it basically says, "Now that I know all the secrets and I know where the aliens are, I'm not going to tell anybody about it.'

Snowden then outlined his dilemma, and why he ultimately decided not to submit the book for review. "However, if the thing that you see in your secrecy agreement conflicts with that oath of service, if the thing you see is that the government itself, the agency itself, is actually violating that constitution — well, now you're kind of screwed. Then if you try to explain what happened, and if you write a book about how it happened and how we get out of it, and then you're supposed to send that book to the CIA, and let the CIA edit your life story... would you do that?"

"I would not," replied Noah. "I can safely say I would not." Snowden continued, "Me either."