“Financial Censorship Is Still Censorship”: Edward Snowden Slams Justice Dept. Lawsuit Against Him

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As a whistleblower complaint filed against President Trump rocks Washington and threatens Trump’s presidency, one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers, Edward Snowden, joins us from Moscow, Russia. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Snowden alleging that his newly released memoir, “Permanent Record,” violates the nondisclosure agreements he signed with the federal government when he was a National Security Agency employee. The Justice Department also argued that they are entitled to all of Snowden’s book profits. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Juan González speak with Snowden about the lawsuit.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As a whistleblower complaint filed against President Trump rocks Washington and threatens Trump’s presidency, we spend the hour with one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers, Edward Snowden. Six years ago, Snowden leaked a trove of secret documents about how the United States had built a massive surveillance apparatus to spy on Americans and people across the globe. He gave the information to reporters. In May 2013, Snowden quit his job as an NSA contractor in Hawaii and flew to Hong Kong, where he met three reporters — Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill — who began publishing a series of articles exposing the NSA and the surveillance state.

Snowden was then charged in the United States for violating the Espionage Act and other laws. In order to avoid being extradited to the United States, he attempted to fly from Hong Kong to Latin America, transiting through Moscow. But Snowden became stranded in Russia after the U.S. revoked his passport. He has lived in Moscow ever since.

Edward Snowden has just published his memoir. It’s called Permanent Record. He writes about what led him to risk his life to expose the U.S. government’s system of mass surveillance.

Juan González and I spoke to him from his home in Moscow Wednesday. We talked about his book, his work as an intelligence contractor, the ongoing debate about privacy rights online, and the latest news from Washington where a whistleblower complaint against President Trump has helped push House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry. I began by asking Ed Snowden about the Justice Department’s new lawsuit against him, claiming his memoir violates nondisclosure agreements he signed with the CIA and National Security Agency. I asked him to respond to the Trump administration’s threat to seize the proceeds from the book because he didn’t submit the manuscript for review before it was published.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Oh, well, I mean, in general, everyone can see what this is. The United States government, largely the intelligence community, agencies within it, very much don’t want to see books like this published. Any kind of true and honest accounting of the actual facts of the government’s unlawful or potentially unconstitutional behavior is always going to cause some friction.

And the first thing they go to is what they call a secrecy agreement. Now, this is not an oath of secrecy. A lot of people think it is. When you first join the CIA, you do swear an oath, but it’s not an oath of secrecy. It’s not to the agency. It’s not even to the government. It’s not to the president. It’s an oath of service, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against, as we all know, all enemies, foreign and domestic.

So, this raises the question, of course, of what do you do when your obligations come into conflict. To what do we owe a greater allegiance, the Constitution or the Standard Form 312, the classified nondisclosure agreement? My belief is the Constitution prevails in that kind of conflict.

Now, the government is saying, because I signed this agreement, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, or regardless of whether the book has any classified or does not have any classified material in it — and, by the way, it doesn’t, at least not anything that’s unpublished, not already published in newspapers around the world — they go, “All right, well, we’re going to take all the money for it.” And this is because — not that they go — the Department of Justice, when they brought this complaint, they were very clear, very precise, to say, “We’re not banning the book. We’re not trying to stop publication.” And they couch it in language that makes it appear like this was a choice they made, that they were being generous. But the reality is that they couldn’t, because they’re forbidden from doing so by the First Amendment. All they can do is go after the money. And we simply just have to remember that financial censorship is still censorship. But that doesn’t bother me, because I didn’t write this book to make money.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does it mean that they have sued you? What effect has that had on your book?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: It’s actually a funny story. We were at about number 25 on the charts. It had been a pretty quiet launch, because a lot of the more corporate media in the United States doesn’t really want to talk about things like whistleblowing — well, until this week. And so, it sort of went under the radar. And then, the very day of the launch, about four or five hours afterwards — we could see the hour-by-hour metrics of how the book was doing — we went from number 25 right up to number one. So, you could say the attorney general is really the best frontman for this book that I could possibly ask for.

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