Permanent Record, Edward Snowden's memoir came out today. It has gone on sale in 20 countries, including the US, UK, Germany and Canada.
And just as quickly, the US government has filed a lawsuit against Snowden and his publisher MacMillan Books.
Snowden was a contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked highly-classified secrets of the US government's electronic surveillance operations. He currently lives in exile in Russia and faces arrest and prosecution if he returns to the US. Oliver Stone made a movie about him.
The lawsuit does not seek to prohibit the sale of Snowden's book. It intends to seize all money and royalties from the sales.
Back in August, we spoke to Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer and whistleblower advocate. He speculated that the US Government would file such a lawsuit against the book.
"The US Government could file a civil lawsuit against Snowden if he failed to submit his manuscript for prepublication review and obtain explicit approval for publication. That obligation applies even if there is not one word of classified information within his book. It is a contractual obligation that he agreed to when he signed his secrecy/non-disclosure agreements with CIA and NSA." Zaid said.
"Under SCOTUS precedent in Snep v. US (1980), the US Government can obtain a constructive trust against Snowden and seek any monies he has or will ever obtain through advances and royalties. That is, the US Government could require MacMillan to turn over every royalty check to it instead of Snowden."
That has come to pass.
The US Government's Statement
"The lawsuit alleges that Snowden published his book without submitting it to the agencies for pre-publication review, in violation of his express obligations under the agreements he signed," the Justice Department said in a news release on Tuesday.
"Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit," G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the suit was filed, said in a press release.
"The purpose of this prepublication review 'is to determine whether material contemplated for public disclosure contains protected information and if so, to give the NSA an opportunity to prevent the public disclosure of such information,'" the government wrote in the lawsuit, quoting the NSA Secrecy Agreement that all employees and contractors like Snowden are required to sign.
"Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit," G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said.
Snowden's Lawyer's Response
Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project American Civil Liberties Union and Snowden's attorney, issued a response to the lawsuit. "This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations. 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."
"Mr. Snowden wrote this book to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire. He hopes that today's lawsuit by the United States government will bring the book to the attention of more readers throughout the world," Wizner said in an emailed statement.
Permanent Record is now available in bookstores.