back to article US government sues ex-IT guy for breaking his NDA (Yes, we mean Edward Snowden)

The US government today sued former CIA employee and NSA sysadmin contractor Edward Snowden to deny him payment from his newly published book, Permanent Record. The civil lawsuit [PDF], filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Snowden violated non-disclosure agreements signed as a condition of employment with …

  1. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    And I'll bet...

    The defendant needs to be in a US court to fight the lawsuit.

    (manacles provided free of charge)

    1. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: And I'll bet...

      Not in (un)civil cases.

      Which since this is a contract dispute and not criminal, it is.

    2. David Shaw

      Oh, he has a book out?

      I guess I'll go and buy it then!

      (Was I the only person visiting/working in the Home Office who noticed when GCHQ started to phone senior mandarins on the afternoon of the start of the Snowden crisis?)

      We were all having tea at the time, very nice hospitality too, very professional people

  2. Richard Parkin

    Public interest defence

    Is it possible to argue a public interest defence in this court. Since that is what Snowden says he want in a trial in US it seems like a win for him if it’s possible.

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: Public interest defence

      It is possible, but his objection to going through the US court system is that it has been corrupted to the point where a fair trial is now impossible, which is the entire point of his leaks and his book.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Public interest defence

      Snowden also says he wants a fair trial in the US. I doubt that's possible, though.

      1. theblackhand Silver badge

        Re: Public interest defence

        Amusingly, Snowden would probably get a fairer trial in Russia.

        That's progress comrade...

    3. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

      Re: Public interest defence

      As long as the government isn't seeking an injunction on the publishing of the book, a public interest defence would probably be dismissed out of hand.

      1. theblackhand Silver badge

        Re: Public interest defence

        The book is being published in Germany so a US injunction is unlikely to work regardless of the case presented - the best the US government could hope for would be preventing copies being imported.

        1. DiViDeD Silver badge

          Re: Public interest defence

          the best the US government could hope for would be preventing copies being imported legally

          There, FTFY

    4. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: Public interest defence

      There is no possibility of a public interest defence in a case involving National Security.

      When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, he exposed examples of gross governmental misconduct, but the trial went ahead. When Chelsea Manning leaked video of US helicopter pilots laughing as they sprayed bullets into a group of men and as the APCs rolled over the bodies of the dead and dying, she went to prison.

      Whatever you reveal about corruption or incompetence, even if the papers explicitly proved that senior NSA officials got together once a month to eat roasted orphans, that is not admissible in a case which simply asks the question "Did you reveal information you were not authorised to?"

      You can check out Ellsberg's HopeX talk on this link

      1. jackofalltrades

        Re: Public interest defence

        It's not a coincidence that the number of prosecutions for 'leaks' has grown exponentially since 9/11, and especially after Obama got into office and has continued since Trump. It's become a running 'joke', if you can call something so awful a form of even dark humor. It's a gross color-of-law violation? But done by protected class? Oh, it's illegal to turn them in.

        There's a reason that immunity (and especially punishment for having gall to question it) should itself be questionable, even by those that benefit from it. Absolute immunity eventually leads to really bad places for those involved. It invites an infection: First, some bad actor joins and abuses it. Second, everyone else sees that nothing happens after many times abused. Third, soon, it's so common that it leads to strife. Forth, some people get told to eat cake and history happens. ;)

  3. Paul Johnston
    Joke

    Purely hypothetically

    If you wanted to give money to someone living in Russia would Facebooks version of a cryptocurrency be the way to go?

  4. JohnFen Silver badge

    I'll have to wait

    I guess I'll have to wait to see what happens before I buy his book. I don't want the money to go to the DOJ.

    1. exovert

      Re: I'll have to wait

      I'd like to think there'd be a more reliable means than downloading it and posting cash.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'll have to wait

        If Snowden posts a bitcoin addy, I would be very morally relaxed about downloading a copy and sending the full purchase price there.

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: I'll have to wait

      Just don't buy it from a US publisher.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: I'll have to wait

        Probably best not buy it online from say amazon et al, as this will leave a data trail. Best to purchase over the counter...

        1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

          Re: I'll have to wait

          Best to purchase over the counter...

          With cash.

          1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

            Re: I'll have to wait

            ... and non-sequential serial number, laundered through at least 3 third parties..

          2. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: With cash.

            Absolutely! Hard cash is the way to go.

            If you can't scratch a window with it, I don't accept it.

            thanks, DA

        2. ITPerson
          Meh

          Re: I'll have to wait

          glad i refunded it from amazon, didnt even open the book.

        3. ITPerson

          Re: I'll have to wait

          glad i refunded from amazon, didnt even open it.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: I'll have to wait

      Well the simple but potentially obvious way around this will be for Snowden's publisher to publicly declare that they are not paying Snowden for the book. However, some minor publishing house in Russia or where ever is convienant gives Snowden a rather large advance for his new kids book on Unicorns (say)...

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The defendants are in Russia and Germany but then US justice spans the world.

    1. eldakka Silver badge

      I believe this case only applies to US publishing houses publishing (and selling) this book. It doesn't apply to, say, a UK publisher publishing the book outside of the US.

      1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

        That's probably not what the US govt thinks.

        1. jackofalltrades

          Pax Imperium

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        I believe this case only applies to US publishing houses publishing (and selling) this book. It doesn't apply to, say, a UK publisher publishing the book outside of the US.

        You're forgetting previous cases.

        The US government believes it applies to any company that has a US HQ/subsidiary and thus is worldwide - including the EU...

        By going with a Germany publisher, Snowden clearly shows he doesn't trust the UK not to be the US's poodle; before or after Brexit...

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          "By going with a Germany publisher, Snowden clearly shows he doesn't trust the UK not to be the US's poodle; before or after Brexit..."

          My latest book is with a German publisher. Does that mean I don't trust the UK not to be the US's poodle?

          It just means that the German publisher and he reached an agreement.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            >My latest book is with a German publisher. Does that mean I don't trust the UK not to be the US's poodle?

            Depends on the content :)

            However, I assume you've been wise and had the contract specify payment in euro's...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      All the German publishing company has to do it run it through a European publisher and then sell the book directly to end users through a (European) website. Can't see what the US government could do about that without it being bank fraud or outright theft.

      1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

        The same that they do with other actors they don't like. They make sure they're on a blacklist so they can't do business with any US entity or through any US bank.

      2. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        I'm sure they will find a way of charging people with 'wire fraud' if they purchase the book from outside the US

        1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

          Not just wire fraud. They'lll tack on 26 other charges that'll ruin your life even if only one of them sticks.

          Then they'll a coerce a confession out of you for wire fraud after which they'll put you in a private jail where you're an additional 200k revenue over the next 4 years

          But it's all Justice and Freedom(tm) here guys; Look squirrel!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "I'm sure they will find a way of charging people with 'wire fraud' if they purchase the book from outside the US"

          A payment AND a receipt? That's TWO charges of wire fraud.

          And a book containing stolen secrets? Add in handling stolen information.

          And they are US state secrets? That's treason.

          1. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: That's treason.

            And before anyone argues that you can't commit treason against a country you don't live in or have never visited, consider (for a moment) Julian Assange

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Remember how the US basically shutdown online gambling sites that had nothing to do wit the US, simply by strong-arming visa et al.

    3. Spanners Silver badge
      Alert

      Punctuation needed

      ...but then US "justice" spans the world.

      FTFY

  6. goldcd

    As an idle thought, on the topic

    I had an idea that maybe this "you can't benefit on something that's illegal" could be extended.

    e.g.

    I'm sure today there's a dev working within the NSA who's been asked to do something that they have personal qualms over the legitimacy of that they're doing.

    That's a tough place to be. I'd presume your current justification is that this "isn't your problem" - NSA asked you to to do it, you did it, and you believe they'll "cover you ass"

    Imagine an alternative world. You share what you've done, it's marked as being illegal, your salary is clawed back (you shouldn't profit from breaking the law).

    1. ma1010 Silver badge

      Re: As an idle thought, on the topic

      NSA: a hard place to work, where terms like right and wrong aren't even known to their management. Not the first or only one, though.

      Let me be the first to invoke Godwin's Law (sort of)

      I was just following orders!

      -various and sundry Nazis

      Okay, the NSA aren't that bad. I hope.

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: As an idle thought, on the topic

        All governments believe themselves to be above the law. It's merely a matter of which law.

      2. FozzyBear Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: As an idle thought, on the topic

        NSA: a hard place to work, where terms like right and wrong aren't even known to their management.

        The NSA, Any government department or politician for that matter in any country it is not about being right or wrong, it is about being found out.

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: As an idle thought, on the topic

      "Imagine an alternative world. You share what you've done, it's marked as being illegal, your salary is clawed back (you shouldn't profit from breaking the law)."

      This alternative world is hell on earth.

      A shop sells something that turns out to break some health and safety rules. All retail employees have their salaries clawed back because they shouldn't profit from crime.

  7. Andrew Jones 2

    If the incredibly private and classified information is already available online, has been reported on news programs and published by numerous newspapers, and thus is classed as being in the public domain, might it not be difficult to argue that classified information is being published in a book?

    1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

      When has logic and facts ever stopped the US govt in the last 5 decades?

      Politicians are blatantly and overtly lying (not just talking about Trump) and the corporate mediat, not only let's them get away with it, they actively assist in propagating those lies

      Nixon was just unlucky to be president in a time when journalists still used to serve the public interest.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Nixon was just unlucky to be president in a time when journalists still used to serve the public interest."

        And a time when he couldn't bypass them.

    2. Mr Humbug

      NDAs that I've seen all say something along the lines of: you can talk about the stuff covered by this agreement if it becomes publicly known otherwise than through your breach of this NDA. Since we know all this stuff because Snowden breached the NDA I guess he's now the only person in the world who is not allowed to talk about it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The NDA ("contract") between an individual and the US federal government for purpose of holding a security clearance at all, regardless of which department or agency, clearly specifies that it doesn't matter if/when/where/how any classified information is released, YOU do not talk about it or share it AT ALL or else charges may be brought. Just because information is public does not automatically make it unclassified. This is reiterated in annual refresher training based on the National Industrial Security Program Operations Manual (NISPOM, an acronym we have to memorize).

        I'm not entirely clear on the book review bit, but the above supersedes even writing a draft. You're supposed to take your secrets to the grave.

        Speaking of graves... My grandfather worked for Honeywell -- supposedly on missile-guidance systems since he previously went to Navy radio school in Norfolk, Virginia, during WWII -- and didn't talk about it to anyone, including my grandmother or their kids. He passed in early 2009 and she followed last year; secrets safe.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          A Virtually Almighty Command and Control Lever Age ..... with AWE20me Special Forces.

          Is such an onerous NDA ("contract") fair and reasonable whenever the upper levels of secret knowledge gleaned and learned are so incredibly valuable and fantastically expensive to not reveal and conceal/squirrel away for another time later. :-)

          It is certainly not good elite capitalist business sense, battling to restrict and restrain growth in upper levels of secret knowledge, whenever markets can deliver and driver whatever analysts and programmers imagine to be possible via ITs use of Media and AI and/or AIs use of IT and Media.

          And that delivers an altogether fundamentally different Bigger Picture Show to Present for NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACtive Input to Output SMARTR Enabling.

          How switched on to the Myriad Wiles of HyperRadioProACTive IT Web Spiders are the MOD/UKGBNI and are they being soft targeted here with this simple registering of an expression of interest in AWE20 ..... or would one need to enquire directly via the email addresses provided/dead drops supplied?

          They're here being tested for Leading AI Positions with an Engaging Out of this World Narrative Raw Core Ore Source Supplying Future Product for Present Production.

          How do you think they will fare in that sort of Experimental Warfighting Army Ware? Brilliantly or abysmally?

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      If the incredibly private and classified information ...is classed as being in the public domain

      Skimming through the case document, it would seem one angle the US will take is the "information obtained as a result of his relationship with NSA" [para 37.]. The question arises is how did that information get into the public domain, if it was because of Snowden's own revelations...

  8. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

    War criminals

    So now that they got around to sueing Edward Snowden, they should be just on the verge of putting the war criminals that were exposed in his leaks on trial right? RIGHT?

    Didn't think so.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    FAIL

    Not Surprised

    This has no real purpose. It is an obvious childish revenge attack.

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: Not Surprised

      They have specifically said so themselves:

      Uncle Sam's legal eagles appear to have anticipated this by insisting that it "does not seek to stop or restrict the publication or distribution of Permanent Record." It claims it just wants to stop Snowden from being paid.

      And I don't believe for a moment that they haven't heard of the Streisand Effect.

      1. jackofalltrades

        Re: Not Surprised

        What if it's deliberate, and the person involved WANTs it widely read?

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Not Surprised

      I think within the specific context of Edward Snowden then I would tend to agree it serves no real purpose.

      However, stepping back, it once again provides further opportunity to harass publishers and the media, and to remind employees (current and previous) of NSA et al of their NDA's, so don't think about whistleblowing etc.

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    ISIS Road to Hell

    "Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement.

    But it clearly doesn't, and does, Mr US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

    And you can't do anything at all really effective and great game changing about all of that, can you?

    Trying to penalise and put an extortionate price on the appearance of truth, .... and let us here all assume the Permanent Record tale told is an honest account of Intelligence Systems International Shenanigans ...... is a monumental folly worthy of madness in the enthrall of mayhem.

    And it instantly identifies the real enemy and supporting conspiratorial systems within ‽ .:-)

    [The road to hell (part 1)]

    Stood still on a highway

    I saw a woman

    By the side of the road

    With a face that I knew like my own

    Reflected in my window

    Well she walked up to my quarterlight

    And she bent down real slow

    A fearful pressure paralysed me in my shadow

    She said 'son what are you doing here

    My fear for you has turned me in my grave'

    I said 'mama I come to the valley of the rich

    Myself to sell'

    She said 'son this is the road to hell'

    On your journey cross the wilderness

    From the desert to the well

    You have strayed upon the motorway to hell

    [The road to hell (part 2)]

    Well I'm standing by the river

    But the water doesn't flow

    It boils with every poison you can think of

    And I'm underneath the streetlight

    But the light of joy I know

    Scared beyond belief way down in the shadows

    And the perverted fear of violence

    Chokes the smile on every face

    And common sense is ringing out the bell

    This ain't no technological breakdown

    Oh no, this is the road to hell

    And all the roads jam up with credit

    And there's nothing you can do

    It's all just bits of paper flying away from you

    Oh look out world, take a good look

    What comes down here

    You must learn this lesson fast and learn it well

    This ain't no upwardly mobile freeway

    Oh no, this is the road

    Said this is the road

    This is the road to hell ..... https://genius.com/Chris-rea-the-road-to-hell-part-1-and-2-lyrics

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: ISIS Road to Hell

      "Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,"

      Just one reason why the TLAs are careful not to fully brief the president.

      I wonder if he's asked them to consider his hotel at Turnberry as a safe house yet? If he can get the air force to layover air crews there, why not the occasional spy on the run or a defector or two?

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: ISIS Road to Hell

      "a monumental folly worthy of madness in the enthrall of mayhem"

      I have no idea what that means, but I like it and I'm stealing it for my dating profile.

      Who says AI* can't be artists?

      * Unless it's really aliens.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    to deny him payment from his newly published book, Permanent Record.

    what book?! Ah, this book, why, thankyouverymuch!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "This is the book the government does not want you to read."

    NEVER EVER READ THIS BOOK, TERRIBLE TERRIBLE BOOK!

    D. Trump

    1. magickmark
      Trollface

      Re: "This is the book the government does not want you to read."

      NEVER EVER READ A BOOK, TERRIBLE TERRIBLE BOOK!

      D. Trump

      There corrected it for you !!

      1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge
        Coat

        Re: "This is the book the government does not want you to read."

        Unless it's "The Art of the Deal", of course.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: "This is the book the government does not want you to read."

          >Unless it's "The Art of the Deal", of course.

          Donald, doesn't care if you actually read his book, just buy it.

  13. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Just for precedent?

    I'd guess that the US doesn't really care one way or the other, and they must know that they risk the Streisand effect. This is just for form's sake, to make sure that no future cases can claim that they set a legal precedent by ignoring Snowden's breach of NDA. Whether they stop him getting the cash or not, they've made their (legal) point.

  14. Wenlocke

    Clearly the NSA, despite being surveillance gurus, have never heard of the Streisand Effect

    or.... maybe they have.

    Tinfoil Underpants time, but maybe that's exactly what they want. They know people will buy it, they go after it to make it a huge seller... and they quietly net the proceeds. Okay, so it's peanuts in all likelihood, in the grand scheme of their budget, but someone somewhere has to be on the end of the slush fund.

    1. jackofalltrades

      CIA sues NSA when? :D

  15. Persona Silver badge

    Passport

    His passport has been revoked but I'm not certain if his US nationality has been removed too. They are different.

    If he still has US citizenship, Uncle Sam will be expecting income tax on the profits made from his book sale, irrespective of where he is domiciled. Failure to pay the income tax (or citizen exit tax) could lead to charges of tax evasion.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Passport

      Is it even possible to remove nationality from a natural-born citizen?

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Passport

        Yes it is possible, but long standing UN convention says you cant make people stateless by doing so. So if they're dual nationals then by all means you can strip them of their citzienship/nationailty to your nation. But if they hold only your nationality, then you're not supposed to be able to remove it and leave them stateless...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Passport

          Not disagreeing with you, but didn't the UK do exactly that with that teenager who ran away to become an ISIS bride?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Passport

            No.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Passport

              > No.

              Yes.

          2. lglethal Silver badge
            Go

            Re: Passport

            Yes, they stripped her UK citzineship, but that was because she also had Bangladeshi citizenship. So they stripped her of her UK citizenship and left her as a pure Bangladeshi citizen.

            So No, they didnt break the convention at all.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Passport

              "the UK government contends that Begum holds, or is eligible for, citizenship of Bangladesh. There have been reports that immigration lawyers confirm this position. The Government of Bangladesh, however, stated that Begum does not hold Bangladeshi citizenship and will not be allowed to enter the country.

              British law does not allow that an individual is made stateless and Begum will have the right to appeal the Home Office's decision to revoke her UK citizenship."

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Passport

      >I'm not certain if his US nationality has been removed too.

      I suspect not, given Edward Snowden is a natural born american:

      Natural-born U.S. citizens may not have their citizenship revoked against their will, since birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution

      Whilst he has been granted asylum in Russia, it is not clear whether he has formally renounced his US citizenship, given what is involved in renouncement I suspect not and is actually unlikely to happen given the Jamal Khashoggi case. So to answer another question, the IRS are going to be wanting to see his back dated tax returns.

      1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

        Re: Passport

        Does anyone really still trust the US govt to uphold the constitution when it's not convenient.

        I thought the whole Snowden leak shows how much the US govt values the US constitution?!

        Hint: Not a lot

    3. Cxwf

      Re: Passport

      Not that additional criminal charges matter much, since Snowden already has an expectation that he should remain in non-extradition countries for the rest of the time he wants to remain out of prison. The US has no functional way to COLLECT taxes from him.

    4. Barrie Shepherd

      Re: Passport

      "Failure to pay the income tax (or citizen exit tax) could lead to charges of tax evasion."

      That would be the Capone Sting, Cant do you for the bad things you did but we'll get you on Tax Law.

  16. pavel.petrman

    "breaching the trust placed in him"

    ... Yeah, right, ok. But now for a more pressing matter of making sure the state doesn't receive any monetary benefit from me as I have no trust whatsoever to put in it in the first place. How do I do that in a civil lawsuit?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Playing devils advocate

    "The NDA allows us to stop you profitting from revealing classified information."

    "But it's not classified anymore, because I already leaked it all..."

  18. John G Imrie

    Didn't the US learn anything from Spy Catcher?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mafi

    When the mafia is your government, the snitches have no recourse. They don't want to kill him, they want to make an example of him and keep his life hell. Don't expose your governments criminal activity, they will make your life hell, if they let you keep it.

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