BERLIN (dpa) – Edward Snowden orchestrated one of the most notorious security leaks in history. By risking his personal freedom to expose the global reach of NSA surveillance, Snowden has become an international icon of dissent.
Before anyone knew who he was, Snowden chose to share his material with journalist Laura Poitras, whose 2006 documentary about the US occupation of Iraq earned her years of harass-ment by security officials at American airports.
While Snowden sat in a Hong Kong hotel room going through a trove of classified documents with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill, Poitras captured the tense and eerie exchange on film.
Dpa: What made you believe the source when he first contacted you?
Poitras: Partly it was gut instinct. In early February, I got a long e-mail (from Snowden) and it was so detailed and specific. He used terms like ‘Boundless Informant’ that nobody that I talked to had ever heard of. It seemed to be really hard to have made that up. My instinct was, OK, wow, this is a big deal.
I was also cautious because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t some kind of elaborate entrapment. I actually asked the source, how do I know that you’re not trying to entrap me? And he said, I’m not going to ever ask anything. I’m just going to give you information. I think he appreciated the fact that I was sceptical and challenging, so we established a rapport.
Dpa: Now that the film is complete and you know how the sequence of events unfolded, would you do anything differently?
Poitras: Given the fact that we were taking on really powerful forces, I think there are some things I would do differently. But in general I think that we were able to report in a way that pushed consciousness and changed the debate around the issue. Whether or not that translates into go-vernments changing their surveillance systems
is still unknown.
The one thing that has been the biggest struggle is how to broaden the reporting without making mistakes that could backfire – that you work with the wrong partner, that you publish the wrong things and that you create a backlash.
The first months we were able to publish a lot, and really aggressively, and then it just seemed to be a lot of pressure and so it slowed down. I wish we’d kept up the pace more. I still want to.
Dpa: What was the message or the purpose of the film?
Poitras: I really felt that what happened in this hotel room was a monumental moment in journalism that I had the permission to do-cument. That’s much more what I’m doing rather than trying to sway anyone’s opinion about Snowden… I’m not going to take the risks that I took to make this film to win over opi-nions.
What I really want to show is the context of the US really coming down on journalists and really coming down on whistleblowers, leakers and sources. This is a document of doing journalism in really frightening times when the risks are
high for everyone involved.