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Judge Rules Edward Snowden Can't Profit From His Book Because It Wasn't Cleared by NSA and CIA

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Edward Snowden will not be allowed to profit from sales of his book Permanent Record, after a federal judge in Virginia ruled Tuesday that Snowden should have sought approval from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA). It’s not clear if Snowden, who was previously a CIA employee and contractor for the NSA, will appeal the ruling.

Permanent Record, which was released in September, tells the story of Snowden’s decision to become a whistleblower and expose the ways that the U.S. government was spying on Americans in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Snowden fled the U.S. in 2013 after several new stories were written based on documents he leaked and now lives in Moscow, Russia.


Snowden didn’t seek approval from the national security agencies where he had signed secrecy agreements before publication, and while the government didn’t move to stop the book from being published, it does want any money he makes from the endeavor. Snowden’s U.S.-based publishers, MacMillan and Holtzbrinck, are also named in the lawsuit.

“Snowden’s publication of Permanent Record without prior submission for prepublication review breached the CIA and NSA Secrecy agreement and the attendant fiduciary duties set forth in those agreements,” federal judge Liam O’Grady wrote in his 14-page decision.


According to government filings, Snowden signed three Secrecy Agreements with the CIA in November of 2005, August of 2006, and April of 2009. He also signed three NSA Secrecy Agreements in July of 2005, May of 2009, and March of 2013. All of those agreements were unambiguous, according to the judge, and required Snowden to get a prepublication review before the book came out.

Snowden argued that his book didn’t include any information that wasn’t already public (thanks to him, of course), and that he didn’t want the CIA to “edit [his] life.” The national security agencies tend to be selective about who gets prosecuted for violating secrecy agreements, according to Snowden.

“There is a strong likelihood that the government would have subjected Mr. Snowden specifically to such discriminatory treatment,” Snowden’s lawyers told the Associated Press last month. “A whistleblower the government considers to be a traitor would have been seeking permission from the very agencies on which he blew the whistle to speak about his views on surveillance.”

The U.S. government also argued during the case that Snowden violated his secrecy agreement by giving public talks via videolink at a TED conference, an internet security fair, and at various universities.


“During each of these events, Snowden caused to be displayed and discussed, among other things, at least one slide which was marked classified at the Top Secret level, and other intelligence-related activities of the CIA and NSA,” the judge wrote. “He never submitted any materials or slides to the CIA or NSA for prepublication review, and never received written authority to make his public remarks or publish his slides.”

The judge ruled that the government is entitled to any proceeds from those public talks, though it’s not clear how that ruling might be enforced.


“It’s farfetched to believe that the government would have reviewed Mr. Snowden’s book or anything else he submitted in good faith. For that reason, Mr. Snowden preferred to risk his future royalties than to subject his experiences to improper government censorship,” Brett Max Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Center for Democracy and member of Snowden’s legal team told Gizmodo via email.

We disagree with the court’s decision and will review our options, but it’s more clear than ever that the unfair and opaque prepublication review system affecting millions of former government employees needs major reforms.”


Gizmodo has uploaded the ruling to the Internet Archive, where it can be read in its entirety.