This Tuesday, the U.S government filed a lawsuit against world-acclaimed whistleblower Edward Snowden to seize the proceeds made from the sale of his new book “Permanent Record” released on the 17th of this month, and are suing him for breach of contract.
The United States alleges that Snowden broke trust by not seeking review from U.S intelligence agencies as regards his book before publishing as stipulated in a contractual agreement between the two parties. The government states that he published the book “in violation of his express obligations under the agreements he signed.”
The case adds that Snowden has also violated his non-disclosure agreements and honored invitations to speak on various platforms about intelligence-related issues. In an issued statement, Assistant Attorney GeneralJody Hunt with the Justice Department said,
Edward 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. 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.
Thus, the government has filed a civil suit and is suing him for breach of contract and his publisher, Henry Holt and Company so the proceeds of the sale of the memoir do not go to Snowden.
A statement from the Eastern District of Virginia states,
The United States’ lawsuit does not seek to stop or restrict the publication or distribution of Permanent Record. Rather, under well-established supreme court precedent… 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.”
This is buttressed by G Zachary Terwilliger, U.S Attorney for the district who said,
“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit, this lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden received no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”
This, however, is not a sentiment shared by many as some have come out to disagree with the government’s suit. Especially from allies in the person of Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer who often represents whistleblowers, who compares Snowden’s situation with that of Julian Assange, sharing on Twitter that,
“In both [cases] we’re seeing a toxic new trend of [the justice department] going after PUBLISHERS.”
Another to dissent with the government’s position is Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who said,
This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organisations. 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.”
This view is closely followed by an albeit more realistic one from ally, Francis Boyle, an international law professor from the University of Illinois College of Law who said,
I don’t think he should be penalised for it [the alleged claim that Snowden breached his contract] financially but, regrettably, that’s the Snepp case and now the Supreme Court is even more rightwing, so I think he will lose his proceeds.
In all this, Snowden’s response has been simple, a tweet containing a link to his book on Amazon which reads,
The government of the United States has just announced a lawsuit over my memoir, which was just released today worldwide. This is the book the government does not want you to read.
There is no love lost between the leader of the current government and Edward Snowden, with President Donald Trump at one point in his personal career calling him a “traitor” who shared state secrets with China and Russia and who deserves to be executed.
Edward Snowden in a conversation with the Guardian juxtaposed Trump's beliefs with the recent climate in the United States that public opinion is somewhat changing about him in a positive light.
He said, “We live in a better, freer and safer world because of the revelations of mass surveillance.” He added,
We have moved into a time where people care much more deeply about feelings than they do about facts, and this is a dangerous moment for democracies because people believe that once we have achieved and established a free and open society, it will remain that way and will always be there. But the reality is that things can backslide very quickly, we have seen democracies fall in just a matter of a few years.
However, legislative change on mass surveillance does not seem to be a priority to the U.S government at this time. To this, Snowden believes the best way to resist is through mass international protest, which he advocates for this in his book,
He said the political and economic systems are slanted to keep the people out of the most important decision making stages of major issues, as well as benefit equally from a good economy in issues ranging from mass surveillance to climate change and as such, people have to identify and understand the problems, as well as stand for what they believe is right to actually effect some change.
Yes, people can believe that mass surveillance is wrong, but it’s not enough to believe in something, you have to be ready to stand for something if you want it to change.”
He shared that he hopes this book can start a conversation that will alert people to decide for themselves the change they’re hoping for.
Head of Investigations at news agency The Guardian, responsible for breaking the news in 2013 when Snowden blew the whistle on intelligence agencies within the U.S and their methods of mass surveillance shared his thoughts about the controversial book. Nick Hopkins noted,
His [Snowden’s] account of the experiences that led him to take momentous decisions, along with details he gives of his family background, serve as a robust defense against accusations that he is a traitor. It also offers a reminder that his disclosures of mass surveillance and bulk collection of personal information are as relevant now as they were in 2013. More so, he argues, given that private companies have become the new data behemoths.
The forementionedSnepp case draws inspiration from that of Frank Snepp, a former CIA analyst who published a book detailing the role the CIA played in the Vietnam war in 1977. He was sued by the government and a hold was placed on financial proceeds from the sale of the book, thereby setting a precedent - even at the highest level of the Supreme Court.