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Former Kansas official files federal suit against Edward Snowden documentary

This photo provided by the Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. The Guardian identified Snowden as a source for its reports on intelligence programs after he asked the newspaper to do so.
This photo provided by the Guardian Newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, on Sunday, June 9, 2013, in Hong Kong. The Guardian identified Snowden as a source for its reports on intelligence programs after he asked the newspaper to do so. File photos

A former Kansas Secretary of Transportation has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to keep Edward Snowden and filmmakers from profiting from a documentary about his release of classified information on covert government surveillance programs.

Horace Edwards is asking the court to order a government seizure of the proceeds from the film “Citizenfour,” which chronicles Snowden’s evolution from National Security Agency contractor to whistleblower to international celebrity fugitive. The suit was filed Friday in Topeka federal court.

“This lawsuit seeks relief against those who profiteer by pretending to be journalists, but in effect are evading the law by betraying their own country,” Edwards’ lawsuit states. “Through this charade in the film ‘Citizenfour,’ a fugitive senior intelligence official … together with the ‘Hollywood Defendants,’ intentionally violate obligations owed to the American people, misuse purloined information disclosed to foreign enemies, and covet financial gain for their misconduct.”

Snowden’s release of information confirmed mammoth U.S. government surveillance of e-mail, phone calls, Web searches and other data of citizens in the United States and allied nations.

The film draws its title from Snowden’s assumed identity at the beginning of his effort to reveal the extent of NSA surveillance. It has won several awards from film critics and is considered a potential front-runner for an Academy Award.

Citizenfour director Laura Poitras was one of four co-winners of the George K. Polk Award in national security reporting this year. She did not immediately answer an e-mail seeking comment and a receptionist at Radius-TWC/The Weinstein Co., which is handling domestic distribution of the film, said no one was available to discuss Edwards’ lawsuit.

In addition to Snowden, Poitras and the Weinstein Co., the defendants in Edwards’ lawsuit include Praxis Films, Participant Media and executive producers Diane Weyermann and Jeffrey Skoll.

Snowden is living at an undisclosed location in Russia, where he fled to avoid U.S. prosecution in 2013. The Justice Department has charged him with violating the U.S. Espionage Act and theft of government property.

Edwards, who lives in Topeka, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on his lawsuit.

In addition to having served as transportation secretary during the administration of Gov. Mike Hayden, Edwards, 89, also identifies himself in the lawsuit as a retired Navy lieutenant “j.g.” who held a “Q” security clearance to work on nuclear submarines, and the former president of Arco Pipeline and of his own engineering company, Edwards and Associates Inc.

In 2004, Edwards sought to run for the U.S. Senate against then-Sen. Sam Brownback. But Edwards failed to muster the 5,000 valid voter signatures he needed to qualify for the ballot.

Much of Edwards’ lawsuit consists of expressions of anger over Snowden’s disclosures.

“As a member of the movie-going public who purchased a ticket to Citizenfour and watched the documentary, he (Edwards) was outraged by the admissions of Defendant Edward J. Snowden detailing his government status as a former CIA/NSA/DIA officer with special high level security clearances, proclaiming himself to be above the law, choosing to breach his government security agreement[s] and his loyalty oath to the United States, intentionally cherry-picking extraordinary quantities and categories of highly classified government information and passing the information to Citizenfour film director Laura Poitras, as well as others,” the lawsuit said.

“Plaintiff Edwards views Defendant Snowden’s acts as dishonorable and indefensible and not the acts of a legitimate whistleblower.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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