Legal Analysis

‘Open and Shut Case’: Edward Snowden Seems Pretty Screwed in New DOJ Lawsuit

The U.S. Government sued whistleblower and former employee Edward Snowden on Tuesday for not submitting his new book Permanent Record for pre-publication review. They say he violated non-disclosure agreements he signed with the Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency. Does the respondent have any leverage in this matter? Well, it looks like he’s screwed, according to a national security legal expert.

“The case law is rather clear on this matter, and there appears to be no realistic argument Mr. Snowden could make to defeat the government’s lawsuit (if he even bothers to contest it),” national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime in an email. “He had a legal obligation to submit the book for pre-publication review. He did not do that, and he published the book anyway. Open and shut case as far as I am concerned.”-

The Department of Justice says they’re not suing to stop publication, but just to make sure Snowden doesn’t receive, or otherwise control the funds from the book.

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

Snowden famously leaked controversial government documents, revealing an expansive and ethically dubious surveillance efforts by the NSA. Federal prosecutors charged him with violating the espionage act. He currently lives in Russia.

The whistleblower put up a confidence stance on Twitter after news broke about the lawsuit.

He highlighted a statement the ACLU wrote in support of him and the publishers.

“This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations,” said Snowden attorney Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “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.”

From the ACLU:

The constitutionality of the pre-publication review system is currently being challenged in court by the ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. The organizations argue the system gives officials far too much power to suppress speech the public has a right to hear and to make unexplained censorship decisions influenced by individuals’ viewpoints and access to power.

Moss anticipated that Snowden might get in trouble in the government for not turning over the book for pre-publication review, and he hedged no words about chances of success.

“Put aside the criminal liability, for the moment,” he wrote on Thursday. “There is an issue of civil liability. They can now go after all the proceeds from the book, even if he intended to donate every last cent to charity.”

[Screengrab via Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED25]

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