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Edward Snowden Must Relinquish ‘Unlawful Financial Gains’ from Book About U.S. Government Spying Regime, Judge Orders


On a day when a federal judge put Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book profits at risk at being lost in their entirety to the government, the government declared decisive victory against American in exile Edward Snowden. The Department of Justice announced that on Sept. 29, which was two days ago or Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia stripped Snowden of millions in profits he received in relation to the publication of his book, Permanent Record.

This was an obvious outcome. In Dec. 2019, the very same court ruled that the government was entitled to any profits derived from sales of Permanent Record, finding that the book’s publication was a clear breach of the employment agreements Snowden signed prior to working for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Before fleeing to Russia, Snowden famously leaked top-secret controversial government documents, revealing the NSA’s unlawful expansive domestic surveillance and bulk data collection. Federal prosecutors charged him with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft of government property in 2013. Unable to move a criminal prosecution forward, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit against Snowden in Sept. 2019 claiming that the publication of Snowden’s memoir—which was not submitted to the government for pre-approval—violated the nondisclosure agreements Snowden signed as part of his work for various intelligence agencies.

Attorneys representing Snowden argued that he did not submit his memoir for approval because the government indicated that it would refuse to review the materials in good faith and within a reasonable time, and was selectively choosing to enforce his secrecy agreements out of animus for his point of view. Judge Liam O’Grady rejected Snowden’s arguments and sided with the DOJ.

“The terms of these Secrecy Agreements are clear, and provide that [Snowden] is in breach of his contracts and the fiduciary duties identified therein if his public disclosures include the type of information and materials the contracts required to be submitted for prepublication review,” O’Grady wrote in Dec. 2019. “Because there is no genuine dispute of material fact that Snowden publicly disclosed the type of information and materials described above in Permanent Record and his speeches, the Government is entitled to summary judgment.”

On Thursday, the DOJ took a victory lap, noting that it obtained a final judgment and permanent injunction against Snowden in an “amount exceeding $5.2 million,” imposing a “constructive trust for the benefit of the United States over those sums and any further monies, royalties, or other financial advantages derived by Snowden from Permanent Record and 56 specific speeches.”

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Snowden will have to relinquish his “unlawful financial gains.”

“Edward Snowden violated his legal obligations to the United States, and therefore, his unlawful financial gains must be relinquished to the government,” Rosen said in a statement. “As this case demonstrates, the Department of Justice will not overlook the wrongful actions of those who seek to betray the trust reposed in them and to personally profit from their access to classified national security information.”

Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.

[Image via Phillip Faraone_Getty Images for WIRED25]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.