Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden earned over $1.2 million in speaking fees after he spilled a huge trove of the U.S.’s most sensitive surveillance secrets seven years ago, a new court filing shows.
Justice Department lawyers filed the tally in federal court in Alexandria, Va., Friday as part of an ongoing lawsuit aimed at stripping Snowden of all profits he earned based on classified information he spirited out of the NSA while working for the spy agency.
Snowden’s booking agent, American Program Bureau of Newton, Mass., reported arranging 67 virtual speeches and panel-discussion appearances for him between September 2015 and May 2020.
Snowden’s biggest speaking payday disclosed is the very first on the list: $50,000 for a speech to Hong Kong-based brokerage firm CLSA in 2015. Other pricey appearances include a turn at Piston ad agency in Kuwait for $35,000, a $32,000 gig for a Portugese tourism bureau and $30,000 each for a “Get Motivated” lineup of motivational speakers and an appearance at the Park City Performing Arts Foundation.
The list also includes payouts Snowden got from colleges and universities. He got $25,000 from the University of Waterloo, $20,000 each for speaking to audiences at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Winnipeg, $18,000 each from Middlebury College and the University of Alberta, $15,000 from the University of Pittsburgh, $14,000 from Ontario Colleges and $12,000 each from Georgetown and Ohio Wesleyan Universities.
While critics will likely view the payments as the computer specialist capitalizing on his alleged crimes, the stream of income he has managed to establish could also dispel suspicions that he’s being supported financially by the Russian government, which granted him temporary asylum in 2013 and has repeatedly extended that status.
The sums the hosts paid were larger than what Snowden received, as the speakers’ bureau took a cut. However, a federal magistrate judge ruled last week that APB can keep the amount of its commissions confidential.
The federal lawsuit filed last August accuses Snowden of breaching various agreements regarding classified information by failing to clear his speeches and his recent book, “Permanent Record,” with the NSA and CIA in advance.
Snowden’s attorneys have acknowledged he did not do so, but have said those agencies would not have dealt with him fairly. They’ve also noted widespread complaints from former government officials about the pre-publication review process.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ruled in favor of the government in the case last December, holding that the government is entitled to the proceeds of the book and Snowden’s profits from the speeches. The remaining issues in the case involve determining just how much money the government is entitled to.
Snowden spurned formal requests from the government for information about his earnings and the contents of his speeches, despite advice from his attorneys that he comply. That prompted U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan to enter sanctions against him earlier this month that essentially bar him from disputing most of the calculations the government has made about his earnings.
In April, Macmillan Publishing Group agreed to direct to the government all future royalties due to Snowden. However, the firm was not required to recover or pay back to the government the undisclosed advance Snowden received for “Permanent Record.”
Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance practices prompted an end of agency some programs and major reforms to others. Stories based on his revelations fueled a global backlash against surveillance and led Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act in 2015, which reined in bulk collection of communications data without individualized suspicion.
Critics have faulted Snowden for indiscriminately releasing top-secret information, even about legitimate programs targeting terrorists, nuclear proliferation and regimes hostile to the U.S. He has said he transferred the data he took to journalists and allowed them to judge what merited release.
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Snowden in June 2013, charging him with three felonies: conveying classified information to an unauthorized party, disclosing communications intelligence information and theft of government property.
The new court filing confirms a Yahoo News report in August 2016 that said sources familiar with Snowden’s business dealings said he had pulled in more than $200,000 in the past year. The disclosure shows that income kept pace over the past several years, but seemed to slow down earlier this year.
APB’s submission said its personnel believe Snowden directed about $51,000 in donations to charity from his speaking fees, although the firm’s records regarding some of those gifts are not clear. A nonprofit group that has been outspoken in support of Snowden, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, got at least $35,000 of that money, the speakers’ bureau said.