New documentary on Snowden released

Award-winning documentarian Laura Poitras has just released her new film Citizenfour about Edward Snowden. (The title of the film is taken from one of the aliases he used in his initial communications with her.) Spencer Ackerman provides a review of the film while George Packer provides a lengthy profile of the notoriously publicity-shy Poitras and also discusses the film which he saw in Berlin before its release.

Poitras was a key figure in the unraveling of the whole worldwide surveillance saga because she was the one Snowden approached with his materials when Greenwald proved to be initially unresponsive, because of her principled journalistic stances that got her in the bad books of the US government long before Edward Snowden entered her life, so much so that she moved to Germany to be free from US government harassment. As Snowden said, “You asked why I chose you. I didn’t. You chose yourself.”

I wrote about Poitras back in 2012 before the Snowden story broke. She had then just won a MacArthur award and I described the constant harassment that she received at the hands of the US government because her documentaries were seen as critical of US government actions in the war on terror. As a result, Poitras is extremely savvy when it comes to security, which must have also appealed to Snowden. Packer describes how she and her co-coworkers did the final work on the film in Germany.

They worked on computers with high levels of encryption, memorized extremely long passwords that were frequently changed, left their phones outside, and shut the windows in rooms where sensitive conversations took place. They were compressing ten weeks of work into less than a month, in time for the première.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, things are looking up for Snowden. Russia has renewed his visa for three years and Lindsay Mills, his girlfriend from Hawaii, has joined him there. He seems to be content with his life, which must infuriate those supporters of the national security state who hoped that he would sink into a state of despair and depression due to his isolation.

The film, in addition to revealing that Mills has joined Snowden, also was the source of the big news that there is now a second leaker providing secrets to Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, who says that there are 1.2 million people in the US under surveillance as potential threats or suspects.

Here is the rather unsatisfying trailer to Citizenfour.

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