Edward Snowden agrees to forfeit more than $5m from book proceeds

CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden agrees to forfeit more than $5m from book proceeds and $18,000 a time speeches to the US government

  • Edward Snowden, 37, published a book last year without government approval 
  • It breached contracts he signed with the CIA and the National Security Agency 
  • Justice Department brought a lawsuit which was upheld by a federal judge 
  • Snowden has since agreed a payment plan with the Trump administration  

CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden has agreed to forfeit more than $5million from book proceeds and speeches to the US government, according to court records. 

The 37-year-old, who leaked intelligence secrets in 2013, published a book last year without government approval which breached contracts he had signed with the CIA and the National Security Agency.

The Justice Department brought a lawsuit against Snowden which has since been upheld by a federal judge – but a forfeiture plan has not yet been approved.

CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden (pictured) has agreed to forfeit more than $5million from book proceeds and speeches to the US government, according to court records

Snowden has so far raked in $4.2million (£3.3milion) from sales of his book, titled Permanent Record, as well as royalties and related rights.

He also gave 56 paid speeches for an average fee of $18,000 – making nearly $1.03million alone from these public appearances.

It is thought that these speeches also involved disclosures of confidential information that once again breached his government secrecy agreement.

Snowden has agreed a plan with the Trump administration, which was filed in court on Tuesday, to pay back the sum into a trust.

But the agreement does not mean that the US government will be able to access the money immediately as he is considering appealing the judge’s previous decision that he was liable for the confidentiality breaches.   

‘This is not like he’s going to fork over the money. This gives them a judgment they were going to get anyways,’ said Lawrence Lustberg, Snowden’s attorney, according to CNN.  

In 2013, Snowden shared thousands of classified documents with journalists, prompting the US government to charge him with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property.

The Hawaiian-based whistleblower worked for the CIA and NSA for several years and says he concluded that both agencies had ‘hacked the constitution’ with extensive government surveillance, putting everyone’s liberty at risk and forcing his hand to leak the information to the media.

Snowden’s decision to go public with the information set off a global debate about government surveillance, put in place by intelligence agencies in a perceived bid to avoid a similar attack to 9/11 from happening ever again.

He has been living in exile in Russia since he leaked the documents. 

Snowden (pictured speaking during a 2019 web summit) has been in exile in Russia since 2013 after  he leaked CIA documents

However, last year, Snowden said his ‘ultimate goal’ was actually to return home to the US.

Though he said any such return would be dependent on the US government offering him a fair trial, something he says officials have ‘refused to guarantee’.

‘But if I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison, the one bottom line demand that we have to agree to is that at least I get a fair trial.’


Edward Snowden’s book, Permanent Record, was released last year. 

It offers by far the most expansive and personal account of how Snowden turned from obscure NSA worker to whisleblower, a move which set off a national debate about the extent of government surveillance by intelligence agencies desperate to avoid a repeat of the September 11 attacks. 

Intelligence officials who conduct annual classified assessments of damage from Snowden’s disclosures have said the documents will continue trickling out into the public domain for years to come.

Though the book comes six years after the disclosures, Snowden, who fled first to Hong Kong and then Russia, attempts in his memoir to place his concerns in a contemporary context. 

 ‘What is real is being purposely conflated with what is fake, through technologies that are capable of scaling that conflation into unprecedented global confusion,’ he says.

The story traces Snowden’s evolution from childhood, from growing up in the 1980s in North Carolina and suburban Washington, where his mother worked as a clerk at the NSA and his father served in the Coast Guard.

He came of age as the Internet evolved from an obscure government computer network and describes how a youthful fascination with technology – as a child, he took apart and reassembled a Nintendo console and, as a teenager, hacked the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory network – eventually led him to a career as an NSA contractor, where he observed high-tech spy powers with increasing revulsion.

Analysts used the government’s collection powers to read the emails of current and former lovers and stalk them online, he writes.

One particular program the NSA called XKEYSCORE allowed the government to scour the recent Internet history of average Americans. 

He says he learned through that program that nearly everyone who’s been online has at least two things in common: They’ve all watched pornography at one time or another, and they’ve all stored videos and pictures of their family.

‘This was true,’ he writes, ‘for virtually everyone of every gender, ethnicity, race, and age – from the meanest terrorist to the nicest senior citizen, who might be the meanest terrorist’s grandparent, or parent, or cousin.’

He struggled to share his concerns with his girlfriend, who joined him in Russia and is now his wife.

‘I couldn’t tell her that my former co-workers at the NSA could target her for surveillance and read the love poems she texted me. I couldn’t tell her that they could access all the photos she took – not just the public photos, but the intimate ones,’ he writes. 

‘I couldn’t tell her that her information was being collected, that everyone’s information was being collected, which was tantamount to a government threat: If you ever get out of line, we’ll use your private life against you.’

Before summoning a small group of journalists to Hong Kong to disclose classified secrets, knowing that a return to the US was impossible, he says he prepared like a man about to die. He emptied his bank accounts, put cash into a steel ammo box for his girlfriend and erased and encrypted his old computers.

These days he remains outside the reach of a US Justice Department that brought Espionage Act charges just weeks after the disclosures. 

He spends many of his days behind a computer and participating in virtual meetings with fellow board members at the Freedom of the Press Foundation. ‘I beam myself onto stages around the world’ to discuss civil liberties, he writes.

When he does go out, he tries to shake up his appearance, sometimes wearing different glasses. He keeps his head down when he walks past buildings equipped with closed-circuit television. Once, he says, he was recognized in a Moscow museum and consented to a selfie request from a teenage girl speaking German-accented English. 

It’s unclear when or even if Snowden will return to a country where his family has deep roots. He traces his lineage back to the Mayflower and ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.

He was shaken by the September 11 attacks, but describes his ‘reflexive, unquestioning support’ for the wars that followed as the greatest regret of his life.

‘It was as if whatever institutional politics I’d developed had crashed – the anti-institutional hacker ethos instilled in me online, and the apolitical patriotism I’d inherited from my parents, both wiped from my system – and I’d been rebooted as a willing vehicle of vengeance.’

He describes the 18 years since the September 11 attacks as ‘a litany of American destruction by way of American self-destruction, with the promulgation of secret policies, secret laws, secret courts and secret wars’. 

Reporting by Ross Ibbetson for MailOnline

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