The Justice Department filed suit Tuesday against renegade former CIA and NSA employee Edward Snowden, saying his memoir “Permanent Record” violates non-disclosure agreements he signed with both agencies.
The suit claims Snowden, living in exile in Moscow, violated the agreements by publishing the book without submitting for pre-publication review and by giving public speeches on intelligence-related matters.
The suit doesn’t seek a halt to distribution of the book, released Tuesday in more than 20 countries, but does press for recovery of all proceeds.
“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Snowden has been hawking the autobiography in a satellite book tour from Russia. The book follows him from his youthful obsession with video games through his dash out of the country six years ago after leaking information on how the agency conducted surveillance on the U.S. public.
Snowden thought his stop in Russia was a layover on a flight from Hong Kong to Latin America, but his passport was canceled and he has lived in Putin-approved exile ever since.
Snowden – hailed as hero, trashed as traitor – says he never took an oath of secrecy, he took an oath to defend the Constitution “from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
He claims he rejected overtures from Russian agents to aid their cause. He describes himself as a whistleblower – but the Justice Department of President Barack Obama charged him with espionage.
Snowden says he does not regret his actions and that he wants to return to the U.S., but his condition has been a recurring theme since he left.Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.
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“I’m not asking for a parade. I’m not asking for a pardon,” he told CBS News. “I’m not asking for a pass. What I’m asking for is a fair trial. And this is the bottom line that any American should require.”
For Snowden, a fair trial means allowing the jury to consider his motivations rather than simply deciding the case on whether a law was broken.
“They want the jury strictly to consider whether these actions were lawful or unlawful, not whether they were right or wrong,” Snowden said. “And I’m sorry, but that defeats the purpose of a jury trial.”
Snowden claims his goal was to reform the NSA, not destroy it. And he says he is a privacy advocate who is concerned by the information collected and distributed from cell phones. The government, he said, often uses the same tools as criminal hackers.
“Anything you can do on that device, the attacker — in this case, the government — can do,” Snowden told NBC News. “They can see anything that is on that phone instantly and send it back home to the mothership.”
Snowden made international headlines when the The Washington Post and the Guardian published stories based on Snowden’s leaks detailing the U.S. government’s mass surveillance program, including access to the cell phone records of millions of Americans.
Federal courts subsequently rejected the mass collection of American phone records, but Congress then passed the USA Freedom Act, which allows the collection with limits. But the controversy hasn’t gone away: The National Security Agency acknowledged improperly collected phone call records of Americans last fall, months after another breach that compelled the agency to destroy millions of records from the contentious program.
The lawsuit also names as nominal defendants the corporate entities involved in publishing Snowden’s book to ensure that no funds are transferred to Snowden.
“The United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees’ and contractors’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreements,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “This lawsuit demonstrates that the Department of Justice does not tolerate these breaches of the public’s trust.”
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