U.S. Tries to Seize Edward Snowden’s Proceeds From New Memoir

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sued the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Tuesday, seeking to seize his proceeds from his new memoir because he did not submit the manuscript for review before it was published so officials could make sure it contained no classified information.

Mr. Snowden, whose 2013 leaks of top-secret documents about National Security Agency programs set off a worldwide debate about government surveillance in the internet era, published the memoir, “Permanent Record,” on Tuesday.

He recounts his life up to the disclosures, including how he came to be alarmed by the growth of the security agency’s surveillance capabilities — such as its then-secret systematic collection of logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls — and how he copied the documents and provided them to reporters.

In the lawsuit, the Justice Department complained that by publishing the book, Mr. Snowden violated his legal obligation to let censors at the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. vet the manuscript first, and so he had to forfeit any profits. As a condition of receiving access to classified information, Mr. Snowden had signed nondisclosure agreements promising to submit to the review system any future writings related to his work for the agencies.

“Intelligence information should protect our nation, not provide personal profit,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the department filed the case, said in a statement. “This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.”

[Read the complaint.]

In 2013, Mr. Snowden was charged in that same district with violations of the Espionage Act, which outlaws the disclosure of potentially harmful national security information to someone not authorized to receive it. But the case against him has not proceeded because Mr. Snowden has since been living as a fugitive in Russia, and the Russian government granted him asylum.

Mr. Snowden hoped the lawsuit would attract more attention to the book, which aimed “to continue a global conversation about mass surveillance and free societies that his actions helped inspire,” an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents him, Ben Wizner, said in a statement.

Mr. Wizner also said that the book contained no classified information that the news media had not previously published.

“Had Mr. Snowden believed that the government would review his book in good faith, he would have submitted it for review,” Mr. Wizner said. “But the government continues to insist that facts that are known and discussed throughout the world are still somehow classified.”

In the lawsuit, the Justice Department also complained that Mr. Snowden had been paid for giving speeches without submitting his planned remarks for prepublication review, and said he should be ordered to turn over those profits as well.

The lawsuit also named Mr. Snowden’s publisher, Macmillan, as a defendant, but said it was seeking only to prevent the company from paying royalties to Mr. Snowden that should now instead be turned over to the federal government.

Mr. Snowden has been hailed as a whistle-blower by privacy and civil liberties advocates, while denounced as a traitor by national security officials. His disclosures prompted reforms.

Among them, Congress ended in 2015 the N.S.A.’s collection of logs of Americans’ phone records. It set up an alternative system where the bulk records remain with phone companies and the agency, with a court’s permission, may access certain logs for counterterrorism analysis. The agency has since shut down that program as well, and it is not clear if lawmakers will extend a law authorizing it that is set to expire soon.

Mr. Snowden has said he will not voluntarily return to the United States because he cannot get a fair trial, in his view. In an interview on CBS on Monday, he reiterated that the law would prevent him from arguing to jurors that they should acquit him of violating the Espionage Act because he was a whistle-blower making disclosures in the public interest.

Officials and contractors who seek security clearances routinely agree to submit writings that relate to their work for prepublication review. The censorship system traces back to limits imposed on a handful of C.I.A. officials in the 1950s and has since ratcheted up to cover many more people and agencies.

In a 1980 ruling, Snepp v. United States, the Supreme Court permitted the C.I.A. to seize the proceeds from a former officer who published a book without submitting it to the agency for such review.

Mr. Wizner noted that in April, a group of former national security officials filed an unusual constitutional lawsuit challenging the system as “dysfunctional” in a way they said unjustifiably restricted their free-speech and due-process rights. They argued that the system was plagued by a patchwork of ambiguous policies and vague standards that put too much discretionary power in the hands of reviewing officials.