In brief

  • The US government is suing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, seeking proceeds from his book sales and speeches at conferences.
  • New court documents reveal Snowden made $1.2 million in speaking fees at virtual conferences.
  • At least $35,000 came from Bitcoin and crypto firms.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden got paid at least $35,000 to give virtual talks on Bitcoin, according to a recent court filing

Blockstack, an Ethereum competitor, paid him $20,000 to speak at Blockstack Berlin in March 2018, where he was interviewed by Coin Center research director Peter Van Valkenburgh

And BTC Media, publisher of Bitcoin Magazine, paid him $15,000 to speak at Bitcoin 2019, a conference held in San Francisco in June of that year, where he was interviewed by BTC Media CEO David Bailey. 

Both talks were virtual, with Snowden appearing on a large screen at the conferences, speaking from his home in Russia where he has been living in exile for seven years to avoid arrest. 

Why is this information coming out now? The former intelligence contractor, who disclosed surveillance secrets in 2013, has made more than $1.2 million in virtual speaking engagements. And the federal government is saying it is entitled to the proceeds from his paid speeches, according to a civil lawsuit filed in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, in September 2019.

As part of the lawsuit, the US government subpoenaed Snowden’s booking agent American Program Bureau, based in Newton, Massachusetts.  

APB responded by handing over a list of 67 speaking engagements that it had booked for Snowden between September 2015 and May 2020. The spreadsheet reveals Snowden’s “speaker honorarium” but does not include other costs, such as the amount paid to APB for booking the talk, which could mean that BTC Media and Blockstack paid more for the talks.

Neither BTC Media nor Blockstack immediately responded to Decrypt’s request for comment.

Snowden has earned an average of $18,745 per engagement. His highest paid engagement was $50,000 for a talk given on behalf of Hong Kong-based brokerage firm CSLA Limited. And the lowest was $3,000 for a talk given at the University of Iowa.  

The civil lawsuit, which is separate from the criminal charges brought against Snowden for his alleged disclosures of classified information, is also seeking to seize his proceeds from his 2019 memoir “Permanent Record,” because he did not submit the manuscript for vetting before it was published so officials could make sure it contained no classified information.

Snowden argued that it was far-fetched to believe that the government would have reviewed his book or anything he submitted in good faith.

Last December, US District Court Judge Liam O’Grady ruled in favor of the government, holding that the government is entitled to the proceeds of the memoir and Snowden’s earnings from the speeches.