NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked the documents that proved that the NSA was collecting phone and data records from telephone and internet companies for the past several years in a program called Prism, asked The Guardian to reveal his identity. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the news, and filmmaker Laura Poitras sat down with Snowden to record his interview.
Snowden worked for the past four years as a NSA contractor and has had great access to the agency’s data, and revealed the Prism information because he wanted people to know what the US government had access to. Snowden created an all-too-real possibility: “A new leader will be elected, they’ll find the switch, say that ‘Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.”
Snowden’s reveal comes after the press has reported that the government has been using, for instance, a data center in Utah to store personal communications. Poitras herself is in the middle of making the third film in her terror trilogy (after “My Country, My Country” and “The Oath”) that will follow domestic spying in the NSA. Last year, she released a film with NSA whistleblower William Binney for the New York Times’ OpDocs program. She brought Binney and privacy expert Jacob Appelbaum with her to a Whitney Biennial event she programmed (See Indiewire’s write-up here).
In her op-ed that accompanied her New York Times video, Poitras explained how the nation’s hypersensitivity to her work as a journalist has impacted her ability to do her work without fear:
Once, in 2011, when I was stopped at John F. Kennedy International
Airport in New York and asserted my First Amendment right not to answer
questions about my work, the border agent replied, “If you don’t answer
our questions, we’ll find our answers on your electronics.”’ As a
filmmaker and journalist entrusted to protect the people who share
information with me, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to
work in the United States. Although I take every effort to secure my
material, I know the N.S.A. has technical abilities that are nearly
impossible to defend against if you are targeted.
Greenwald then defended her, and the two are standing as journalistic heroes who are helping out the nation’s whistleblowers as they seek to expose post-9/11 abuses of power.
In addition to Poitras’ film, others on the subject are in the pipeline or have been released. Oscar winner James Spione is currently at work on “Silenced,” a film about whistleblowers and institutional attempts to silence them. Now in theaters, Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets” recounts the history of Wikileaks, and in so doing, focuses intensely on the sensational: Bradley Manning’s gender and sexual identities, and Julian Assange’s refusal to give Gibney an interview.
Poitras’ video can be found on The Guardian website here.