Government Seeks Edward Snowden's Book Profits in Lawsuit Alleging NDA Violation

The DOJ alleges Snowden breached secrecy agreements signed in connection with his work for the CIA and NSA.
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Edward Snowden

President Donald Trump's Department of Justice didn't try to stop Edward Snowden's book Permanent Record from being released Tuesday — but it still sued him over it.

Snowden's memoir, according to its preface, is an explanation of how he came to become a notorious whistleblower who has spent nearly a decade in exile after leaking classified documents about government surveillance operations. “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.”

According to the complaint, which was filed Tuesday in Virginia federal court, Snowden's work for the CIA and NSA required secrecy agreements. The DOJ argues that he violated his "non-disclosure obligations to the United States" by not handing over the book for review before it was published.

"The United States’ lawsuit does not seek to stop or restrict the publication or distribution of Permanent Record," said the DOJ in a Tuesday announcement. "Rather, under well-established Supreme Court precedent, Snepp v. United States, the government seeks to recover all proceeds earned by Snowden because of his failure to submit his publication for pre-publication review in violation of his alleged contractual and fiduciary obligations."

The government argues that Snowden signed nearly-identical contracts with the CIA and NSA that explicitly required him to give the agencies any writings, including fiction, that included information obtained as a result of his work for them so that they could determine whether the material contained protected information.

"Snowden did not, at any time, submit the manuscript for Permanent Record to either the CIA or NSA for prepublication review," states the complaint, which is posted below. "Pursuant to the terms of Snowden’s secrecy agreements, all rights, title, and interest in any and all royalties, remunerations, and emoluments that have resulted, or will result, from Permanent Record have been assigned to the United States Government."

The government also takes issue with speeches that Snowden has given over the years, and argues it is entitled to claim his speaking fees on the same grounds.

Snowden is being sued for breach of contract and fiduciary duty, and the DOJ wants the court to order a freeze of any assets Macmillan has in its possession related to the book and an injunction requiring the publisher to transfer that money to the government.