Justice Department Charges Edward Snowden With Violating Non-Disclosure Agreements

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents detailing government surveillance programs, has been living in Russia since 2013.

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents detailing government surveillance programs, has been living in Russia since 2013. AP file photo

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Prosecutors are seeking to prevent the former NSA contractor from profiting from his unauthorized release of classified information.

The federal government filed a lawsuit against whistleblower Edward Snowden on Tuesday, arguing he violated non-disclosure agreements with NSA and CIA by not submitting his book for the required pre-publication review, putting national security at risk. 

Following his leak of classified documents about the government’s mass surveillance program in 2013 and escape to Russia, Snowden has a new memoir out on Tuesday called, Permanent Record. Prosecutors from the Justice Department's civil division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia are not seeking to restrict the book’s publication, but rather receive all proceeds he earns as a result of not complying with the review requirements, the complaint says.  

“Snowden has violated an obligation he undertook to the United States when he signed agreements as part of his employment by the CIA and as an NSA contractor,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt in a press release. “The United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees’ and contractors’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreements, including their pre-publication review obligations.”

“We will not permit individuals to enrich themselves, at the expense of the United States, without complying with their pre-publication review obligations,” Hunt said.

The corporate entities involved in the publishing process are named as nominal defendants “solely to ensure that no funds are transferred to Snowden, or at his direction, while the court resolves the United States’ claims,” according to the press release. Additionally, the government said Snowden has been giving paid speeches on intelligence matters for the last five years, which he did not submit to the CIA or NSA for pre-publication review. 

"This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and attorney for Snowden. “Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review.” Wizner also pointed to an ongoing lawsuit from the ACLU and Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute that is challenging the constitutionality of the pre-publication review system. 

The Justice Department’s lawsuit is a civil action, and separate from criminal charges the department has filed against Snowden over the disclosure of classified information. 

Ahead of the book’s publication on Monday, Snowden told CBS’s This Morning he’s “asking for a fair trial” and “won’t take a position on whether or not [he] broke the law.” The book depicts his childhood, time as a CIA employee and NSA subcontractor, and asylum in Russia, he said. 

“What happens when you have a secrecy agreement, but you have also witnessed your own government, your own agency, your workplace, violating the rights of Americans, and people around the world on a massive scale?” he said.