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When Laura Met Edward: A Movie Review

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This week, I attended an advance screening of journalist-filmmaker Laura Poitras’s new documentary, CITIZENFOUR, a tense, first-person account of her encounter last year with National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In January 2013, Snowden reached out to Poitras by sending her encrypted emails under the pseudonym “citizenfour.” Snowden wanted to blow the whistle on the far-reaching and legally suspect covert surveillance activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

Fast forward to June 2013: With movie camera in hand, Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill met with Snowden over several days in a Hong Kong hotel room while Snowden spilled the U.S. government’s most highly classified secrets. The resulting stories published in the international media revealed shocking details about such nefarious activities as the government forcing Verizon to provide the phone records of millions of its customers, the top-secret Prism program tapping into the servers of Google and other major internet companies, and the NSA spying on world leaders.

The nearly two-hour movie intercuts the nerve-racking drama unfolding in the hotel room with scenes underscoring the omnipresence of the U.S. surveillance state—from the NSA’s new $1.5 billion data center  in Utah to surveillance intercept stations strewn throughout the world. We are taken inside a courtroom where the ACLU and the government are clashing over the legality of the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans. On a lighter note, we get up close and personal with Glenn Greenwald at home in Brazil with a pack of very drowsy dogs.

Poitras, who answered questions after the screening, and Snowden were awarded the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling earlier this year. (Full disclosure: POGO was on the selection committee.) The award was well-deserved. Citizenfour is a compelling story that raises important questions about the state of privacy and freedom in the world today.

CITIZENFOUR will be released today.

By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO

Neil Gordon, Investigator Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Surveillance, Intelligence

Authors: Neil Gordon

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