Demonetized by the US government | Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

October 9, 2019

If the US government can’t go after Edward
Snowden physically, they sure can go after his money.
The Department of Justice is suing the NSA
whistleblower and Macmillan Publishers for
Snowden’s bestselling memoir Permanent Record.
They want to seize all royalties not just
from the book, but also from all the speeches
that Snowden gave to keep himself alive. [1]
The reason for his global demonetization is
quite simple – he violated the terms of
The pre-publication review is a requirement
to hand over to relevant government agencies
any material former employees intend to talk
about publicly or to anyone who is not authorized.
The government has the right to reject or
redact the publication in any way without
giving any sensible explanation why.
Failing to submit a publication for a review
gives the government the right to seize all
revenue generated from the forbidden material. [2]
So pretty much how YouTube works.
The United States government has a history
of going after its former intelligence and
military employees for publishing material
the government claims is secret – even if
it has been widely reported by news media
or publicly disclosed by the government itself. [3]
Mark Fallon, a former employee of the Naval
Criminal Investigative Service, had to wait
8 months for the government to review his
book about torture policies during Bush tenure.
In some cases the government redacted newspaper
citations alongside information that had been
previously published by government agencies. [4]
Snowden’s memoir doesn’t mention any new
information that hasn’t been previously
reported by news outlets.
Snowden, in fact, publicly revealed no documents
at all.
What he did was that he gave up his micro-SD
cards to the Guardian reporters and Laura
He then destroyed all of his copies and boarded
a flight to Moscow with a 24-hour layover
for connection to Ecuador where he initially
sought asylum before the government canceled
his passport.
The first to publish a detailed book about
the NSA mass surveillance documents was actually
Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer turned journalists
who was among the first two people who met
Snowden in Honk Kong.
Snowden wouldn’t be the first to have the
government take all of his profits from his book.
A member of the team that assassinated Osama
Bin Laden lost $6.8 million to the U.S. government
for not submitting his book to a pre-publication
review. [5]
Ishmael Jones, the pseudonym of a former C.I.A.
case officer behind the book “The Human
Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence
Culture,” submitted his book to the agency,
but published it before the review was done.
He had to give up all of his earnings that
he donated to children of K.I.A American soldiers. [6]
But this arbitrary enforcement of pre-publication
review might be violating the first amendment.
By claiming all the revenue, the U.S. government
is sending a message that supporting certain
content is not allowed.
And the ACLU argues that the demonetization
tactics are an attack on the freedom of speech
and that the government is discriminatory
in its enforcement policies – being strict
to critical material but permissive to favorable
one. [4]
The government has argued for years Snowden
compromised national security, but they have
never provided any [7] evidence or specific
details to support their claims. [8,4]
But even if it was true, compromising national
security is only considered to be a problem
when you don’t have favorable connections
to the key positions of power.
The FBI refused to charge Hillary Clinton
for directing classified information to her
private email server – even though at least
110 messages contained classified information,
22 of which had top secret CIA designation.
The FBI reports Clinton extensively used an
unsecured phone to access her email account
during her travels abroad, including the “territories
of sophisticated adversaries”.
This further exposed the secret documents
and the FBI said it was possible that hostile
governments could have gained access to Clinton’s
email server. [9, 10]
One of her emails revealed that she set up
a private server because she didn’t want
her personal information to be accessible
to Freedom of Information requests.
“I don’t want any risk of the personal
being accessible.”It’s almost as if she
was worried about her privacy.
And apparently she isn’t alone, because
it seems to be a common practice among high-position
US officials to manage private accounts while
in office. [11]
Disclosing classified information on at least
110 occasions for personal benefit is not
considered a crime, but handing over evidence
of government wrongdoing for public interest
gets you a lifetime in prison.
Snowden’s defense has been crippled into
a coma as he was denied to use public interest
as a defense in front of a jury.
There is no denying that Snowden broke some
laws – the moment he stepped out of the
NSA building with a micro-SD card full of
classified documents would alone guarantee
him a significant prison time.
But his defense is that he broke a lesser
law to uphold the ultimate one –
the U.S. Constitution. [12]
As far as Snowden’s defense goes, he seems
to have solid standing.
The N.S.A.’s bulk collection of phone records
has been deemed illegal by a federal court. [13]
Following the revelations, the Congress passed
the U.S.A Freedom Act that among other amendments
banned bulk collection, limited data harvesting
to two hops, allowed private companies to
publicly report on data requests and introduced
advocates representing public interest into
the FISA court. [14]
In other words, this is the highest legislative
institution in the U.S. proving Snowden’s
public interest defense for him.
Stripping Snowden of his only defense turns
a fair trial into a sentencing hearing.
So what is this forbidden book about that
makes it so dangerous?
Well, it’s an insight into Snowden’s life,
growing up in a family where government service
is a centuries-old tradition, and his thrilling
journey to become a whistleblower.
If you followed the NSA revelations closely,
this book won’t give you any new information.
But it will give you a detailed view of Snowden’s
emotions and thoughts as he was slowly becoming
aware of the depressing reality of mass surveillance
he helped build, and especially during the
nerve-wrecking journey of taking the documents
from the N.S.A all the way to the journalists in Honk Kong.
Snowden lived a large part of his early life
in the shadow of the NSA headquarters in Fort
Meade, Maryland, that was in part built on
former property of the Snowden family.
Both of his parents had top-secret security
clearances in the Intelligence Community.
His mother worked for the NSA as an insurance
clerk and his father served in the Coast Guard
as a curriculum designer and electronics instructor.
He was the one that introduced young Edward
to gaming consoles and computer games, and
even early programming.
Snowden was fascinated by this technology
and spent most of his time in front of a screen.
He wasn’t good at school and he never liked
it there.
Even today, Snowden stands by his claims that
he could learn far more from exploring computer
technology and playing games than listening
to teachers in school.
Snowden was inspired by his fathers ability
to repair any device at home and his mother
would give him math challenges.
He loved the early Internet of bulletin-board
systems, watched anime and at the age of 13,
he hacked a nuclear facility’s website and
reported its vulnerabilities to their operators.
What’s most valuable to me in his book,
is Snowden’s philosophy.
When he opens up about his thought processes,
opinions, personal values and emotions about
issues as he encountered them.
How the Internet culture shaped his personality
and implanted principles within him that gave
him the strength to stand against the surveillance
It’s fascinating for me to realize how much
I share his philosophies and values and it
makes me feel less alone in this quest.
I decided to share with you a part of Snowden’s
philosophy that was most touching to me as
I read the book.
In Permanent Record, Snowden frequently recalls
the good old days of the early Internet and
compares them with the corporate-centered
centrally controlled Internet of today.
I put together an excerpt of multiple different
places from Permanent Record where Snowden
most openly and directly speaks about his
I hope enjoy these parts as much as I did.
“Back then, being online was another life,
considered by most to be separate and distinct
from Real Life.
The virtual and the actual had not yet merged.
And it was up to each individual user to determine
for themselves where one ended and the other
It was precisely this that was inspiring:
the freedom to imagine something entirely
new, the freedom to start over.
Whatever Web 1.0 might’ve lacked in user-friendliness,
and design sensibility, it more than made
up for by its fostering experimentation and
originality of expression, and by its emphasis
on the creative primacy of the individual.
A typical GeoCities site, for example, might
have a flashing background that alternated
between green and blue, with white text scrolling
like an exclamatory chyron across the middle
– Read This First!!! – below the .gif of
a dancing hamster.
But to me, all these kludgy quirks and tics
of amateur production merely indicated that
the guiding intelligence behind the site was
human, and unique.
Computer science professors and systems engineers,
moonlighting English majors and mouth-breathing
basement-dwelling armchair political economists
were all only too happy to share their research
and convictions – not for any financial
reward, but merely to win converts to their
As the millennium approached, the online world
would become increasingly centralized and
consolidated, with governments and businesses
accelerating their attempts to intervene in
what had always been a fundamentally peer-to-peer
But for one brief and beautiful stretch of
time – a stretch that, fortunately for me,
coincided almost exactly with my adolescence
– the Internet was mostly made of, by, and
for the people.
Its purpose was to enlighten, not to monetize,
and it was administered more by a provisional
cluster of perpetually shifting collective
norms than by exploitative, globally enforceable
terms of service agreements.
To this day, I consider the 1990s online to
have been the most pleasant and successful
anarchy I’ve ever experienced.“
Later on in the book, Snowden revisits this
nostalgia for a long gone wild-west era of
the Internet, when he faced the clearing process
for a job at the C.I.A.
He was afraid that he wouldn’t get the job
out of his embarrassing expressions of his
past personality on messaging boards.
96 – 97: “Writing pseudonymously had meant
writing freely, but often thoughtlessly.
And since a major aspect of early Internet
culture was competing with others to say the
most inflammatory thing, I’d never hesitate
to advocate, say, bombing a country that taxed
video games, or corralling people who didn’t
like anime into reeducation camps.
When I went back and reread the posts, I cringed.
Half the things I’d said I hadn’t even
meant at the time – I’d just wanted attention
– but I didn’t fancy my odds of explaining
that to a gray-haired man in horn-rimmed glasses
peering over a giant folder labeled PERMANENT
The other half, the things I think I had meant
at the time, were even worse, because I wasn’t
that kid anymore.
I’d grown up.
It wasn’t simply that I didn’t recognize
the voice as my own – it was that I now
actively opposed its over-heated, hormonal
I found that I wanted to argue with a ghost.
I wanted to fight with that dumb, puerile,
and casually cruel self of mine who no longer
I couldn’t stand the idea of being haunted
by him forever, but I didn’t know the best
way to express my remorse and put some distance
between him and me, or whether I should even
try to do that.
It was heinous to be so inextricably, technologically
bound to a past that I fully regretted but
barely remembered.
This might be the most familiar problem of
my generation, the first to grow up online.
We were able to to discover and explore our
identities almost totally unsupervised, with
hardly a thought spared for the fact that
our rash remarks and profane banter were being
preserved for perpetuity, and that one day
we might be expected to account for them.
I’m sure everyone who had an Internet connection
before they had a job can sympathize with
this – surely everyone has that one post
that embarrasses them, or that text or email
that could get them fired.
My situation was somewhat different, however,
in that most of the message boards of my day
would let you delete your old posts.
I could put together one tiny little script
– not even a real program – and all of
my posts would be gone in under an hour.
It would’ve been the easiest thing in the
world to do.
Trust me, I considered it.
But ultimately, I couldn’t.
Something kept preventing me.
It just felt wrong.
To blank my posts from the face of the earth
wasn’t illegal, and it wouldn’t even have
made me ineligible for a security clearance
had anyone found out.
But the prospect of doing so bothered me nonetheless.
It would’ve only served to reinforce some
of the most corrosive precepts of online life:
that nobody is ever allowed to make a mistake,
and anybody who does make a mistake must answer
for it forever.
What mattered to me wasn’t so much the integrity
of the written record but that of my soul.
I didn’t want to live in a world where everyone
had to pretend that they were perfect, because
that was a world that had no place for me
or my friends.
To erase those comments would have been to
erase who I was, where I was from, and how
far I’d come.
To deny my youngest self would have been to
deny my present self’s validity.
I decided to leave the comments up and figure
out how to live with them.
I even decided that true fidelity to this
stance would require me to continue posting.
In time, I’d outgrow these new opinions
too, but my initial impulse remains unshakable,
in only because it was an important step in
my own maturity.
We can’t erase the things that shame us,
or the ways we’ve shamed ourselves, online.
All we can do is control our reactions – whether
we let the past oppress us, or accept its
lessons, grow, and move on.“
194 – 195: “The Internet I’d grown up
with, the Internet that had raised me, was
And with it, so was my youth.
The very act of going online, which had once
seemed like a marvelous adventure, now seemed
like a fraught ordeal.
Self-expression now required such strong self-protection
as to obviate its liberties and nullify its
Every communication was a matter not of creativity
but of safety.
Every transaction was a potential danger.
Meanwhile, the private sector was busy leveraging
our reliance on technology into market consolidation.
The majority of American Internet users lived
their entire digital lives on email, social
media, and e-commerce platforms owned by an
imperial triumvirate of companies (Google,
Facebook, and Amazon), and American IC was
seeking to take advantage of that fact by
obtaining access to their networks – both
through direct orders that were kept secret
from the public, and clandestine subversion
efforts that were kept secret from the companies
Our user data was turning vast profits for
the companies, and the government pilfered
it for free.
I don’t think I’d ever felt so powerless.”
197: “Most of our lives, even if we don’t
realize it, occur not in black and white but
in a gray area, where we jaywalk, put trash
in the recycling bin and recyclables in the
trash, ride our bicycle in the improper line,
and borrow a stranger’s Wi-Fi to download
a book that we didn’t pay for.
Put simply, a world in which every law is
always enforced would be a world in which
everyone was a criminal.
I tried talk to Lindsay about all this.
But though she was generally sympathetic to
my concerns, she wasn’t so sympathetic that
she was ready to go off the grid, or even
off Facebook or Instagram.
“If I did that,” she said, “I’d be
giving up my art and abandoning my friends.
You used to like being in touch with other
She was right.
And she was right to be worried about me.
She thought I was too tense, and under too
much stress.
I was – not because of my work, but because
of my desire to tell her a truth that I wasn’t
allowed to.
I couldn’t tell her that my former coworkers
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 her public
photos, but the intimate ones.
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

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