ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – The U.S. government sued whistleblower Edward Snowden in federal court Tuesday, claiming Snowden failed to give the CIA and the National Security Agency, his onetime employer, ample opportunity to review his latest book before it was published.
The 26-page civil complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia does not seek to stop the publication of Snowden’s book, “Permanent Record,” but only says the former National Security Agency contractor published it in direct violation of nondisclosure agreements he signed with the CIA and NSA years earlier in Virginia.
Similar speeches Snowden has delivered on intelligence-related matters in the run-up to the book’s publication were also a violation of those agreements, Trent McCotter, assistant U.S. Attorney General said in a statement Tuesday.
Snowden acknowledged in his initial CIA secrecy agreements that the purpose of prepublication review was to give the agency a chance to determine whether information that may go public contains any details that might have previously been flagged as too sensitive to share, according to the complaint.
The agreements were binding even after he was terminated, the government says.
When it came to additional contracts he later signed, the situation was no different, the government says.
“Snowden expressly acknowledged that he understood and accepted the United States government as placing special confidence and trust in him by granting him access to classified information,” the complaint states.
Once both agreements with the CIA and NSA were signed, Snowden was then bound to give the federal government all title, interest, royalties, remuneration and emoluments “of whatever form” that would result from the disclosure, publication or revelation of protected information, the government says.
“And at no time has Snowden received a release from the terms and conditions of his NSA secrecy agreements,” the complaint says.
Snowden announced the release of his book Twitter. The publication would be fitting, Snowden wrote last month, because the release coincides with Constitution Day, a federally observed holiday commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
Snowden’s publisher, co-defendant Macmillan, followed up on Snowden’s tweet with its own press junket celebrating the publication.
The government says the publishing giant must turn over the proceeds it collects from sales of “Permanent Record.”
Speeches the former contractor has delivered since 2014 should have also been subject to CIA and NSA review, the complaint notes.
Snowden received at least $10,000 for his appearances – and sometimes more, the government says.
“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”
Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a statement Tuesday that the United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees respecting their nondisclosure agreements.
“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,” Hunt said.
Snowden did not immediately return a request for comment but posted a response to the federal government’s lawsuit on Twitter.
“The U.S. government has just announced a lawsuit over my memoir, which was released today worldwide. This is the book the government does not want you to read,” Snowden wrote before providing a link to the book for sale on Amazon.
In addition to a finding that Snowden breached his contractual obligations to the CIA and NSA, the government wants the judge to impose a “constructive trust for the benefit of the United States” for royalties the book earns – including any revenue that may be generated from movie rights.
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney and director of the American Civil Liberties Union speech, privacy and technology project, brushed off the lawsuit Tuesday.
“This book contains no government secrets that have not been previously published by respected news organizations. 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,” Wizner said.
“Mr. Snowden wrote this book to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire. He hopes that today’s lawsuit by the United States government will bring the book to the attention of more readers throughout the world.”
Holztbrinck Publishers LLC is also a named defendant.
A representative from Macmillan did not immediately respond to request for comment.