Justice Department sues Edward Snowden over memoir

The agency says he was required to clear the book with them first.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
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Video of Edward Snowden shown on a large screen above a stage.

Edward Snowden speaks via video link at an event in Austria in October. On Tuesday, the US government sued Snowden, saying he's spoken publicly on intelligence matters in violation of non-disclosure agreements. 

Jan Hetfleisch / Getty Images

The US Department of Justice sued former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on Tuesday for publishing his memoir without submitting the book to their pre-approval process for government workers. The memoir, Permanent Record, details his time inside US intelligence agencies and his decision to leak documents detailing secret government surveillance programs to journalists in 2013.

The lawsuit seeks to direct all money earned from the book to the US government.

In a statement, the Justice Department said Snowden was subject to contractual obligations to get prior approval before publishing the book, which was released on Tuesday. The agency also says he's spoken publicly on intelligence matters in violation of non-disclosure agreements. The department takes particular issue with Snowden, who is charged with violating the Espionage Act and lives in exile in Russia, seeking to make money off the book and his speeches without abiding by these agreements.

"This lawsuit demonstrates that the Department of Justice does not tolerate these breaches of the public's trust," said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt in a statement. "We will not permit individuals to enrich themselves, at the expense of the United States, without complying with their pre-publication review obligations."

In a statement, Ben Wizner, an attorney at the ACLU who represents Snowden, said the book doesn't contain any government secrets that hadn't already been published.

"Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review," Widner said. "But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified."

In a tweet, Snowden acknowledged the lawsuit and provided a link to his book on Amazon.

"The government of the United States has just announced a lawsuit over my memoir, which was just released today worldwide," Snowden tweeted. "This is the book the government does not want you to read."

Snowden has made press appearances in the lead up to his book's release, and he told CBS News on Monday that he'd return to the US if he was allowed to argue in court that he made his disclosures to benefit the public interest. (Note: CBS News and CNET are both owned by parent company CBS.)

The ACLU is also challenging the constitutionality of the government's pre-publication review process in a federal lawsuit.