5 things to know about Edward Snowden’s ‘Permanent Record’

Snowden, who disclosed classified national security documents to the press, lets readers in on the rationale for his actions.

Metropolitan Books via AP
“Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden, Metropolitan Books, 352 pp.

Edward Snowden, a former contractor in the United States intelligence community, released his memoir on Sept. 17, six years after his disclosures of classified materials that revealed the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance. The Monitor’s Dwight Weingarten breaks it down. 

1. Why should you care?

Mr. Snowden wrote the book to make people aware of the government’s domestic surveillance and also to contribute to a discussion about privacy rights. 

2. Is Mr. Snowden a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is someone who reports waste, fraud, or abuse in an organization or a violation of law. Mr. Snowden calls himself a whistleblower. The NSA’s searches of citizens’ internet activity constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to Mr. Snowden.   

The U.S. government, however, does not classify Mr. Snowden as a whistleblower. He disclosed the materials on the NSA’s surveillance in 2013 by going directly to journalists. He is charged with theft and violating the Espionage Act of 1917 by providing intelligence information to unauthorized persons. Under the charges, Mr. Snowden could face a maximum of 30 years in jail.

3. Where is he and why is he there?

Granted asylum by Russia, Mr. Snowden remains in Moscow, where he has been living since 2013. After disclosing the stolen materials to journalists in a Hong Kong hotel room, Mr. Snowden sought to travel to Ecuador to seek political asylum. The first leg of the journey landed him in Russia, where he received news that the U.S. government canceled his passport. The Russian government denied U.S. requests to extradite him. Under the conditions of his asylum, he is permitted to remain in Russia until at least 2020. 

The week that “Permanent Record” was published, Mr. Snowden told “CBS This Morning” that he would like to return to the U.S., but wants a trial with “a public interest defense,” where a jury could consider his motivations and the public interest of what was revealed by the materials. The Espionage Act provides no public interest defense.

4. Is the book banned?

No. The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Snowden for publishing the book in violation of CIA and NSA nondisclosure agreements. The suit does not seek to limit the distribution of the book, but aims to ensure Mr. Snowden does not profit from sales because of the disclosure of intelligence information. 

5. What’s in the book?

Those curious about why and how he disclosed top secret information may be most interested in the second and third parts of the book, which cover his years working in the intelligence community.

The first part of “Permanent Record” is the most personal. He recounts his early years, much of which he spent behind a computer. He writes of his discovery and reporting of a vulnerability in the website of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the country’s nuclear research facility, as a teen. Often staying up late exploring uncharted online territories during the internet’s earliest days, he struggled to stay engaged with school and failed to complete assignments. “You have so much potential, Ed,” said one teacher, who pulled him aside after class. “You have to start thinking about your permanent record.”

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