A retired naval officer and former government secretary is suing the producers of Citizenfour, the documentary chronicling NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's classified document release in 2013, for "profiteering" from the "theft and misuse" of government files.
The officer and former secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, Horace Edwards, said he was filing the suit "on behalf of the American public."
Snowden's document leak revealed widespread, illegal global spying programs conducted by the U.S. and U.K. governments, among other regimes, which targeted both foreign diplomats and those countries' own citizens for surveillance. The files also identified numerous telecommunications companies as participating in the operations, handing over private customer data and metadata to government agents, even without warrants. Snowden's supporters call him a hero; his detractors call him a traitor.
Edwards, who filed the suit Monday at the Kansas federal court, is one such critic. According to the lawsuit, Edwards believes that the revelations—many of which are still being newly published—caused "irreparable damage to the safety of the American people." His suit aims to prevent "dangerous disruption of foreign affairs due to irresponsible conduct of disloyal government operatives and entertainment industry collaborators".
Among those named in the suit is investigative journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work highlighting the leak and also directed and is one of the producers of Citizenfour—a first-person account of the meeting and collaboration in Hong Kong between Poitras, Snowden, and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill.
"This lawsuit seeks relief against those who profiteer by pretending to be journalists and whistleblowers but in effect are evading the law and betraying their country," Edwards writes in his suit. He also charges Poitras with "hiding [Snowden] in her hotel room while he changes into light disguise, accepting all of the purloined information to use for her personal benefit financially and professionally, filming Defendant Snowden’s meeting with a lawyer in Hong Kong as he tries to seek asylum."
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Shortly after the documents were released and Snowden's identity was revealed to the world, the U.S. charged the whistleblower with espionage, theft, and conversion of government property. Snowden fled to Russia, where he was granted asylum in 2013 and a three-year residency permit in August. In his suit, Edwards echoes the U.S. government's indictments of Snowden, including that the NSA contractor—and his journalistic supporters—"intentionally violate[d] obligations owed to the American people" and "misuse[d] purloined information disclosed to foreign enemies."
"Citizenfour portrays Defendant Snowden as a well-meaning whistleblower having nowhere else to turn, while the Hollywood Defendants justify their own acts as ones deserving of applause, when in fact the film glorifies international espionage for profit," Edwards writes in his suit.
Edwards is seeking a "constructive trust" to overturn the producers' profits from the film.
Citizenfour won Best Feature at the International Documentary Association awards on December 6. Watch the trailer below: