The government is entitled to any money that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden makes from his book and paid speeches because he discussed his top-secret work without permission, a federal judge ruled.
Snowden signed contracts while working for the NSA about handling classified information that detailed the government’s sweeping surveillance programs, and his book and speeches are violations that permit the government to claim his profits, U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady wrote in an opinion released Tuesday in Virginia.
“The contracts at issue here are unambiguous and clear,” the judge wrote.
“The contracts are clear that even tangentially related information or material ― indeed, even fictional works ― are subject to prepublication review,” O’Grady continued. “Snowden’s public comments and displays, which occurred without prepublication review, breached the CIA and NSA Secrecy Agreements and their attendant fiduciary duties.”
Snowden was charged with espionage in 2013 after leaking classified documents that exposed the government’s vast spying on ordinary citizens. He fled to Russia to escape prosecution, saying he believed he would not receive a fair trial, and has argued he is entitled to whistleblower protections.
Both former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump have condemned his actions.
The federal government, unable to bring Snowden to trial, went after the proceeds from his 2019 memoir, “Permanent Record,” and the paid speeches he’s given about his work for the NSA and CIA.
The government’s lawsuit said Snowden violated secrecy agreements he signed in 2005, 2009 and 2013, which required him to obtain written permission before disclosing any classified information relating to his work with the NSA. The contracts require him to forfeit any proceeds from disclosures that violate the agreements.
Snowden attorney Brett Max Kaufman, of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy, argued that the terms of the contracts could not be taken seriously.
“Snowden’s public comments and displays, which occurred without prepublication review, breached the CIA and NSA Secrecy Agreements and their attendant fiduciary duties.”
“It’s farfetched to believe that the government would have reviewed Mr. Snowden’s book or anything else he submitted in good faith,” Kaufman said in a statement. “For that reason, Mr. Snowden preferred to risk his future royalties than to subject his experiences to improper government censorship.”
Kaufman is challenging the government’s prepublication review system in another lawsuit filed in April on behalf of five former government employees who the ACLU said are also unable to write or speak about their government work without approval.
The employees argue that this prepublication review violates the Constitution’s First Amendment and Fifth Amendment.
Snowden’s book was released in September and debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction bestsellers list in October.