'Citizenfour' Producers Sued Over Edward Snowden Leaks (Exclusive)

The U.S. government still wants to get its hands on Edward Snowden, the former CIA officer who has detailed the extent to which the NSA spies on citizens. Here's a timely question: Would the federal government ever do anything about Citizenfour, the Oscar-contending documentary that features Snowden?

So far, the Barack Obama administration has given the film a pass, but on Friday, one former government official decided that enough was enough.

Read more 'Citizenfour': New York Review

Horace Edwards, who identifies himself as a retired naval officer and the former secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, has filed a lawsuit in Kansas federal court that seeks a constructive trust over monies derived from the distribution of Citizenfour. Edwards, who says he has "Q" security clearance and was the chief executive of the ARCO Pipeline Company, seeks to hold Snowden, director Laura Poitras, The Weinstein Co., Participant Media and others responsible for "obligations owed to the American people" and "misuse purloined information disclosed to foreign enemies."

It's an unusual lawsuit, one that the plaintiff likens to "a derivative action on behalf of the American Public," and is primarily based upon Snowden's agreement with the United States to keep confidentiality.

Represented by attorney Jean Lamfers, Edwards appears to be making the argument that Snowden's security clearance creates a fiduciary duty of loyalty — one that was allegedly breached by Snowden's participation in the production of Citizenfour without allowing prepublication clearance review. As for the producers and distributors, they are said to be "aiding and abetting the theft and misuse of stolen government documents."

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The lawsuit seeks a constructive trust to redress the alleged unjust enrichment by the film. A 1980 case that involved a former CIA officer's book went up to the Supreme Court and might have opened the path to such a remedy, though the high court said nothing about orders against private citizens like the filmmaker. Assuming Edwards has standing to pursue the lawsuit — hardly a given — wouldn't that be censorship?

"This relief does not infringe upon First Amendment rights but maintains a reasonable balance between national security and the fundamental Constitutional protections of Freedom of the Press," the lawsuit states. "No censorship occurs and no public access is restrained. Rather, upon information and belief, 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 is clearly upset by Snowden's actions, calling them "dishonorable and indefensible and not the acts of a legitimate whistleblower," as well as by Hollywood for "omit[ting] from the storyline" perceived acts of foreign espionage, and Poitras for doing things like "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…"

Participant Media said it had no comment about the lawsuit.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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