The US Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against Edward Snowden today for violating non-disclosure agreements he signed with the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
At the center of this lawsuit is Snowden’s new memoir book, entitled “Permanent Record,” that went on sale today.
The US government argues that according to contracts Snowden signed with the NSA and CIA, Snowden was supposed to submit the book for review and approval to the US government before publication.
This clause is standard in all government intelligence worker contracts and is there to prevent former agents from disclosing classified information in memoirs or works of fiction.
US seeks to block Snowden’s book profits
The DOJ civil lawsuit [PDF] doesn’t seek to block Snowden from publishing and selling the book but instead asks the court for all proceeds Snowden stands to make.
Besides Snowden, the DOJ also named the three publishers carrying Snowden’s book as defendants in the civil lawsuit.
“The United States is suing the publisher solely to ensure that no funds are transferred to Snowden, or at his direction, while the court resolves the United States’ claims,” the DOJ said in a press release today.
“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office filed the lawsuit. “This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”
ACLU: No merit to lawsuit
However, the lawsuit’s merit is already being called in question by the American Civil Liberties Union. In a blog post today, Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and one of Snowden’s attorney criticized the US government’s feeble attempts to get back at Snowden.
“This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations,” Wizner said.
“Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review. But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified.”
Lawsuit is separate from criminal charges
Today’s civil lawsuit is separate from the criminal complaint that US officials filed against Snowden. The US formally charged Snowden with leaking government classified information to the media in June 2013.
At the time, Snowden had already left the US and was living in Hong Kong. He has since relocated to Russia where he received political asylum.
Snowden worked as a contractor for the NSA, from where he took classified information and later leaked it to international media in 2013 and through the subsequent years. His leaks exposed the US government’s internal and foreign surveillance programs and cyber operations.