This week, the latest chapter in the Edward Snowden chronicles is beginning to play out. Snowden, a former civilian contractor and employee for US spy agencies, the NSA and CIA, has published his memoirs. The book, entitled Permanent Record, is an account of Snowden’s life and career as a tech-savvy intelligence guru who went from assisting the Leviathan in its global surveillance domination to revealing it. In his book, Snowden recounts his role in creating the program which he would eventually expose to the world. The Trump Administration, in response, is suing.
The Trump lawsuit is not an extension of the secret Espionage indictment which the United States has levied against Snowden. Trump just wants the money. The civil suit, filed in the Eastern District federal court of Virginia alleges that Snowden, by writing the book and giving various speeches, has violated the non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which all government employees sign, in some form. The United States alleges that Snowden was required to ask his former employer(s) for permission to write and publish the book, as well as submit the manuscript to them for editing and approval. The US further alleges that Snowden agreed, pursuant to the NDA’s, for the same pre-approval regarding the content of his speeches. Surprisingly, Snowden did none of that.
In 2013, while working for US intelligence, Snowden suddenly appeared in a Hong Kong hotel room inside the city airport’s international zone. The news had just broken around the world about how the United States had been monitoring, literally, every human being on Earth who was connected online. Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill, the journalists whom Snowden chose to inform and educate the world, was provided a trove of documents which detailed a program known as PRISM, amongst others, and the data which they collected; without warrants and the elimination of the constitutional requirement mandating them. The revelation nearly stopped the Earth on its axis.
The United States was no longer just spying on foreign governments and terrorists, but everyone. The documents demonstrated how the US had created the capabilities to download, store, and analysis virtually everything sent over the net. This included the ability to hack into gaming consoles and monitor the online activities of your children.
Equally unsettling, Snowden revealed to the world how the US surveillance state accomplished all of it by using the tech industry elites: to include; Google, AT&T, Verizon, Facebook, Microsoft. PRISM, amongst other such programs, were renewed by the US government for use and are still part of the US arsenal for globally unrestricted surveillance with impunity.
The basis for the current civil suit resides in the fact that government employees and contractors are required to sign NDA’s upon accepting employment with the government. Among the things which NDA’s address, publishing or giving speeches is one of them. NDA’s require an individual to seek permission and approval from the US government before even discussing a topic which is directly or indirectly connected to their government role or information which they are/were privy to because of it. This process is known as “prepublication review”. These NDA’s, or secrecy agreements, apply during an individual’s employment and extend essentially until their death. The civil suit does not mention or cite the pending Espionage charges or indictment against Snowden. The US does name the publishers in the suit, but solely as “relief defendants”; meaning the US is not alleging that they violate anything, but only that they stand to financially benefit from Snowden’s violations, thus the US should get their money also.
The supposed purpose of NDA’s is to legally bind the person to an eternal agreement of secrecy. The Attorney General’s office states that the “United States’ ability to protect sensitive national security information depends on employees’ and contractors’ compliance with their non-disclosure agreements, including their pre-publication review obligations”. These agreements make no distinction between revealing matters which are legally implemented or done in violation of the law or human rights by the government.
Many allege however that the actual purpose and result of these contracts is infinite government control over one’s life, livelihood, and mind; namely violations of the First and Fifth Amendments. Currently, the ACLU, of which Snowden’s attorney is a Director, is in a separate action which was filed in April, challenging the legality and constitutionality of aspects of the NDA’s. The ACLU suit does not address NDR’s in their totality, but focus upon the “prepublication review” element and process. These are the issues which the US is alleging that Snowden has violated. The ACLU asserts, as the US government has previously admitted to, that the process is faulty and “racked with pathologies.” The NSA and the CIA are named defendants in the suit. In essence, the ACLU suit equates NDA’s too rampant and excessive censorship. Essentially, it needs to be acknowledged that a man’s life experiences belong to him.
The true purpose of the suit though could be a bit more sinister. Snowden is still an American citizen, which means that he still possesses tax liabilities on his income. As an American living abroad, the law provides for a very high threshold before when tax liabilities are invoked. However, the US government, relying on various articles, states in their suit that Snowden has reported made $200,000.00 in 2015 just in speaking fees. If accurate, Snowden would have US tax liabilities at this income level. If Snowden is not paying taxes then the US could be essentially phishing for accurate income amounts, via this suit, in order to file tax evasion charges against Snowden. Charges which are easier to accomplish extradition for.
Snowden, now 36, still resides in Russia where he has been provided protection and asylum from extradition to the US for prosecution pursuant to the secret Espionage indictment levied against him. He remains vocal and active for online freedom and against the violations of law and human rights which government surveillance commits.
Following the US announcement about the suit, Snowden’s response was quintessentially American; he posted a link to buy the book.