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This is the profile of documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras I’ve been linking to, a portrait of the woman whom NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first convinced to listen to him. It was Poitras who brought in Glenn Greenwald, Poitras who shot and edited the video of Snowden in Hong Kong. Their work [the work of Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras] was organized like an intelligence operation, with Poitras as the mastermind.
This past January, Laura Poitras received a curious e-mail from an anonymous stranger requesting her public encryption key. The stranger responded with instructions for creating an even more secure system to protect their exchanges. Before long, Poitras received an encrypted message that outlined a number of secret surveillance programs run by the government. Seconds after she decrypted and read the e-mail, Poitras disconnected from the Internet and removed the message from her computer. When she flew out of Sarajevo and landed in Vienna, she was paged on the airport loudspeaker and told to go to a security desk; from there she was led to a van and driven to another part of the airport, then taken into a room where luggage was examined. Initially, she said, the authorities were interested in the paper she carried, copying her receipts and, once, her notebook. She wonders how and when we entered a world where you can be put on a list for years and never be notified.
Be sure to read the part of the article that details what happened to William Binney, the NSA whistle-blower after Russell Tice.
Finally, Poitras’ experience at airports is what happens at the front end, the receiving end, of a grotesquely large and self-enabled national security apparatus.
The switchboard: five tech policy stories you need to read today, How laura poitras helped snowden spill his secrets the new york times has a profile of laura poitras, the filmmaker that nsa whistleblower ed snowden approached to help tell the world his story. Snowden: 'i never thought i'd be saved' after nsa leaks - When edward snowden leaked highly classified secrets about government spying in 2013, the undertaking took meticulous coordination. The switchboard: five tech policy stories you need to read today - How laura poitras helped snowden spill his secrets the new york times has a profile of laura poitras, the filmmaker that nsa whistleblower ed snowden approached to help tell the world his story. Sins of omission - If all i knew about edward snowden were his portrait in laura poitras’ documentary (the film says he went “underground” with the help of local lawyers.) finally, poitras does not show, for obvious reasons, the press conference that snowden. Snowden’s accomplice speaks and other fascinating news on the web - From the nyt magazine: how laura poitras helped snowden spill his secrets. Behind the cover story: peter maass on how he got the very secret laura poitras to open up - Peter maass, a contributor to the magazine, wrote this week’s cover story on laura poitras and glenn greenwald, the two journalists to whom edward snowden leaked material or having you watch them work with secret files? INDIAPOST – Sachin Tendulkar hanged up his boots last year, but the legacy of the ‘God of Cricket’ has not vanished yet. SubscribeEnter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content. INDIAPOST – All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J Jayalalithaa suffered another setback on Wednesday as the vacation bench of the Karnataka High Court adjourned her petition seeking bail till October 7, Zee News reports. For almost two years, Poitras had been working on a documentary about surveillance, and she occasionally received queries from strangers.
Promising sensitive information, the stranger told Poitras to select long pass phrases that could withstand a brute-force attack by networked computers. She worried especially that a government agent might be trying to trick her into disclosing information about the people she interviewed for her documentary, including Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks. Poitras appears to have hit that radar because she, a documentary filmmaker, was on the roof of a clinic in Baghdad filming an insurgency attack in the neighborhood, when she was seen by members of the Oregon National Guard and reported — on no evidence at all — as having had advance knowledge of the attack.
After she stopped carrying her notes, they focused on her electronics instead, telling her that if she didn’t answer their questions, they would confiscate her gear and get their answers that way. Shades of what happened to David Miranda when he was stopped in London; this was in New York though, land of the free. Yes, Laura, we are all trying to understand this world — deep state, its structure and players, its reach and intent. Russell Tice, a massively overlooked and under-appreciated NSA whistle-blower, has a ton more to tell us. Amidst the Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata, the fans have set up a pandal in the shape of a cricket stadium with 10 idols of the Indian cricketer gracing it. Neither the service provider nor the domain owner maintain any relationship with the advertisers. She replied to this one and sent her public key — allowing him or her to send an encrypted e-mail that only Poitras could open, with her private key — but she didn’t think much would come of it.
Snowden, who gave them thousands of classified documents, setting off a major controversy over the extent and legality of government surveillance.
Soon we’ll hear that the CEO of one corporation paid to have a business rival detained in order to confiscate his electronic secrets. In case of trademark issues please contact the domain owner directly (contact information can be found in whois). She replied to this one and sent her public key — allowing him or her to send an encrypted e-mail that only Poitras could open, with her private key — but she didn’t think much would come of it.The stranger responded with instructions for creating an even more secure system to protect their exchanges. After describing each program, the stranger wrote some version of the phrase, “This I can prove.”Seconds after she decrypted and read the e-mail, Poitras disconnected from the Internet and removed the message from her computer.
I just knew that I had to change everything.”Poitras remained wary of whoever it was she was communicating with. Poitras was right that, among other things, her life would never be the same.Greenwald lives and works in a house surrounded by tropical foliage in a remote area of Rio de Janeiro. He shares the home with his Brazilian partner and their 10 dogs and one cat, and the place has the feel of a low-key fraternity that has been dropped down in the jungle. A family of monkeys occasionally raids the banana trees in the backyard and engages in shrieking battles with the dogs.Greenwald does most of his work on a shaded porch, usually dressed in a T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops. During one especially fever-pitched moment, he hollered, “Shut up, everyone,” but they didn’t seem to care.Amid the chaos, Poitras, an intense-looking woman of 49, sat in a spare bedroom or at the table in the living room, working in concentrated silence in front of her multiple computers. Once in a while she would walk over to the porch to talk with Greenwald about the article he was working on, or he would sometimes stop what he was doing to look at the latest version of a new video she was editing about Snowden.
They would talk intensely — Greenwald far louder and more rapid-fire than Poitras — and occasionally break out laughing at some shared joke or absurd memory. The Snowden story, they both said, was a battle they were waging together, a fight against powers of surveillance that they both believe are a threat to fundamental American liberties.Two reporters for The Guardian were in town to assist Greenwald, so some of our time was spent in the hotel where they were staying along Copacabana Beach, the toned Brazilians playing volleyball in the sand below lending the whole thing an added layer of surreality. Poitras has shared the byline on some of Greenwald’s articles, but for the most part she has preferred to stay in the background, letting him do the writing and talking. As a result, Greenwald is the one hailed as either a fearless defender of individual rights or a nefarious traitor, depending on your perspective.
The article caused a huge scandal in Brazil, as similar articles have done in other countries around the world, and Greenwald was a celebrity in the newsroom. The editor in chief pumped his hand and asked him to write a regular column; reporters took souvenir pictures with their cellphones.
I noted that nobody was paying attention to her, that all eyes were on Greenwald, and she smiled.
She also took classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied under the experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr.
In 1992, she moved to New York and began to make her way in the film world, while also enrolling in graduate classes in social and political theory at the New School.
Since then she has made five films, most recently “The Oath,” about the Guantanamo prisoner Salim Hamdan and his brother-in-law back in Yemen, and has been the recipient of a Peabody Award and a MacArthur award.On Sept. Like most New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed she was swept up in both mourning and a feeling of unity.
It was a moment, she said, when “people could have done anything, in a positive sense.” When that moment led to the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, she felt that her country had lost its way.
This was just a few months after photos were published of American soldiers abusing prisoners there. A prominent Sunni doctor was part of the visiting delegation, and Poitras shot a remarkable scene of his interaction with prisoners there, shouting that they were locked up for no good reason.The doctor, Riyadh al-Adhadh, invited Poitras to his clinic and later allowed her to report on his life in Baghdad. Her documentary, “My Country, My Country,” is centered on his family’s travails — the shootings and blackouts in their neighborhood, the kidnapping of a nephew.


The film premiered in early 2006 and received widespread acclaim, including an Oscar nomination for best documentary.Attempting to tell the story of the war’s effect on Iraqi citizens made Poitras the target of serious — and apparently false — accusations. 19, 2004, Iraqi troops, supported by American forces, raided a mosque in the doctor’s neighborhood of Adhamiya, killing several people inside.
Poitras was with the doctor’s family, and occasionally they would go to the roof of the home to get a sense of what was going on. On one of those rooftop visits, she was seen by soldiers from an Oregon National Guard battalion. Some soldiers speculated that Poitras was on the roof because she had advance notice of the attack and wanted to film it. Daniel Hendrickson, retired, told me last month that he filed a report about her to brigade headquarters.There is no evidence to support this claim. Fighting occurred throughout the neighborhood that day, so it would have been difficult for any journalist to not be near the site of an attack.
Tom Mowle, retired, said Poitras was always filming and it “completely makes sense” she would film on a violent day. Hendrickson and another soldier told me that in 2007 — months after she was first detained — investigators from the Department of Justice’s Joint Terrorism Task Force interviewed them, inquiring about Poitras’s activities in Baghdad that day. She was detained for the first time at Newark International Airport before boarding a flight to Israel, where she was showing her film. On her return flight, she was held for two hours before being allowed to re-enter the country. You are at 400 out of 400.’ I said, ‘Is this a scoring system that works throughout all of Europe, or is this an American scoring system?’ He said.
The no-fly list contains the names of tens of thousands of people who are not allowed to fly into or out of the country. The selectee list, which is larger than the no-fly list, subjects people to extra airport inspections and questioning. It is a routine that has happened so many times since then — on more than 40 occasions — that she has lost precise count. On one occasion, Poitras says, they did seize her computers and cellphones and kept them for weeks. Because the interrogations took place at international boarding crossings, where the government contends that ordinary constitutional rights do not apply, she was not permitted to have a lawyer present.“It’s a total violation,” Poitras said. They are interested in information that pertains to the work I am doing that’s clearly private and privileged. It’s an intimidating situation when people with guns meet you when you get off an airplane.”Though she has written to members of Congress and has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, Poitras has never received any explanation for why she was put on a watch list. Nobody ever tells you what the accusation is.”After being detained repeatedly, Poitras began taking steps to protect her data, asking a traveling companion to carry her laptop, leaving her notebooks overseas with friends or in safe deposit boxes. She would wipe her computers and cellphones clean so that there would be nothing for the authorities to see. Or she encrypted her data, so that law enforcement could not read any files they might get hold of. These security preparations could take a day or more before her travels.It wasn’t just border searches that she had to worry about. Poitras said she felt that if the government was suspicious enough to interrogate her at airports, it was also most likely surveilling her e-mail, phone calls and Web browsing.
A National Security Letter requires its recipients — in most cases, Internet service providers and phone companies — to provide customer data without notifying the customers or any other parties. She cut down her use of a cellphone, which betrays not only who you are calling and when, but your location at any given point in time. She was careful about e-mailing sensitive documents or having sensitive conversations on the phone.
In addition to encrypting any sensitive e-mails, she began using different computers for editing film, for communicating and for reading sensitive documents (the one for sensitive documents is air-gapped, meaning it has never been connected to the Internet).These precautions might seem paranoid — Poitras describes them as “pretty extreme” — but the people she has interviewed for her film were targets of the sort of surveillance and seizure that she fears.
Binney was, at the moment the agent entered his bathroom and pointed a gun at his head, naked in the shower. Binney has not been charged with any crime.Jacob Appelbaum, a privacy activist who was a volunteer with WikiLeaks, has also been filmed by Poitras. The government issued a secret order to Twitter for access to Appelbaum’s account data, which became public when Twitter fought the order. Like Binney, Appelbaum has not been charged with any crime.Poitras endured the airport searches for years with little public complaint, lest her protests generate more suspicion and hostility from the government, but last year she reached a breaking point.
While being interrogated at Newark after a flight from Britain, she was told she could not take notes. On the advice of lawyers, Poitras always recorded the names of border agents and the questions they asked and the material they copied or seized.
I said, ‘Show me the law where it says I can’t take notes.’ We were in a sense debating what they were trying to forbid me from doing. I think she was feeling that the one vestige of security and control in this situation had been taken away from her, without any explanation, just as an arbitrary exercise of power.”At the time, Greenwald was a writer for Salon. Snowden anonymously sent him an e-mail saying he had documents he wanted to share, and followed that up with a step-by-step guide on how to encrypt communications, which Greenwald ignored. Snowden then sent a link to an encryption video, also to no avail.“It’s really annoying and complicated, the encryption software,” Greenwald said as we sat on his porch during a tropical drizzle. He figured that she would understand the programs he wanted to leak about and would know how to communicate in a secure way.By late winter, Poitras decided that the stranger with whom she was communicating was credible.
There were none of the provocations that she would expect from a government agent — no requests for information about the people she was in touch with, no questions about what she was working on. Snowden told her early on that she would need to work with someone else, and that she should reach out to Greenwald. She was unaware that Snowden had already tried to contact Greenwald, and Greenwald would not realize until he met Snowden in Hong Kong that this was the person who had contacted him more than six months earlier.There were surprises for everyone in these exchanges — including Snowden, who answered questions that I submitted to him through Poitras. At the same time, this is 2013, and [he is] a journalist who regularly reported on the concentration and excess of state power. I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world.”In April, Poitras e-mailed Greenwald to say they needed to speak face to face.
Greenwald happened to be in the United States, speaking at a conference in a suburb of New York City, and the two met in the lobby of his hotel. She had printed off the e-mails, and I remember reading the e-mails and felt intuitively that this was real.
The passion and thought behind what Snowden — who we didn’t know was Snowden at the time — was saying was palpable.”Greenwald installed encryption software and began communicating with the stranger. She has this complete expert level of understanding of how to do a story like this with total technical and operational safety.
None of this would have happened with anything near the efficacy and impact it did, had she not been working with me in every sense and really taking the lead in coordinating most of it.”Snowden began to provide documents to the two of them. Poitras wouldn’t tell me when he began sending her documents; she does not want to provide the government with information that could be used in a trial against Snowden or herself. When Poitras asked if she should plan on driving to their meeting or taking a train, Snowden told her to be ready to get on a plane.In May, he sent encrypted messages telling the two of them to go to Hong Kong. Greenwald flew to New York from Rio, and Poitras joined him for meetings with the editor of The Guardian’s American edition. The four-page order was from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a panel whose decisions are highly classified. As the man sitting next to him slept, Greenwald pointed to the FISA order on his screen and asked Poitras: “Have you seen this? Is this saying what I’m thinking it’s saying?”At times, they talked so animatedly that they disturbed passengers who were trying to sleep; they quieted down. You feel you are empowered for the first time because there’s this mammoth system that you try and undermine and subvert and shine a light on — but you usually can’t make any headway, because you don’t have any instruments to do it — [and now] the instruments were suddenly in our lap.”Snowden had instructed them that once they were in Hong Kong, they were to go at an appointed time to the Kowloon district and stand outside a restaurant that was in a mall connected to the Mira Hotel. There, they were to wait until they saw a man carrying a Rubik’s Cube, then ask him when the restaurant would open. When the man with the Rubik’s Cube arrived, it was Edward Snowden, who was 29 at the time but looked even younger.“Both of us almost fell over when we saw how young he was,” Poitras said, still sounding surprised.


But I also knew from our back and forth that he was incredibly knowledgeable about computer systems, which put him younger in my mind. As soon as we were behind closed doors, however, I think everyone was reassured by the obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides.”They followed Snowden to his room, where Poitras immediately shifted into documentarian mode, taking her camera out. The instant that she turned on the camera, I very vividly recall that both he and I completely stiffened up.”Greenwald began the questioning. We weren’t really able to establish a human bond until after that five or six hours was over.”For Poitras, the camera certainly alters the human dynamic, but not in a bad way. When someone consents to being filmed — even if the consent is indirectly gained when she turns on the camera — this is an act of trust that raises the emotional stakes of the moment. What Greenwald saw as stilted, Poitras saw as a kind of bonding, the sharing of an immense risk. The weight of the situation actually made it easier to focus on what was in the public interest rather than our own.
I think we all knew there was no going back once she turned the camera on.”For the next week, their preparations followed a similar pattern — when they entered Snowden’s room, they would remove their cellphone batteries and place them in the refrigerator of Snowden’s minibar. They lined pillows against the door, to discourage eavesdropping from outside, then Poitras set up her camera and filmed.
It was important to Snowden to explain to them how the government’s intelligence machinery worked because he feared that he could be arrested at any time.Greenwald’s first articles — including the initial one detailing the Verizon order he read about on the flight to Hong Kong — appeared while they were still in the process of interviewing Snowden.
Our work was very focused, and we were paying attention to that, but we could see on TV that it was taking off.
We were in this closed circle, and around us we knew that reverberations were happening, and they could be seen and they could be felt.”Snowden told them before they arrived in Hong Kong that he wanted to go public.
He wanted to take responsibility for what he was doing, Poitras said, and he didn’t want others to be unfairly targeted, and he assumed he would be identified at some point.
She made a 12?-minute video of him that was posted online June 9, a few days after Greenwald’s first articles.
It triggered a media circus in Hong Kong, as reporters scrambled to learn their whereabouts.There were a number of subjects that Poitras declined to discuss with me on the record and others she wouldn’t discuss at all — some for security and legal reasons, others because she wants to be the first to tell crucial parts of her story in her own documentary. Of her parting with Snowden once the video was posted, she would only say, “We knew that once it went public, it was the end of that period of working.”Snowden checked out of his hotel and went into hiding.
Reporters found out where Poitras was staying — she and Greenwald were at different hotels — and phone calls started coming to her room. She knew by then that reporters had discovered Greenwald, so she called hotel security and arranged to be escorted out a back exit.She tried to stay in Hong Kong, thinking Snowden might want to see her again, and because she wanted to film the Chinese reaction to his disclosures. But she had now become a figure of interest herself, not just a reporter behind the camera.
I literally didn’t feel like I could protect my material in the United States, and this was before I was contacted by Snowden. If you promise someone you’re going to protect them as a source and you know the government is monitoring you or seizing your laptop, you can’t actually physically do it.”After two weeks in Berlin, Poitras traveled to Rio, where I then met her and Greenwald a few days later. My first stop was the Copacabana hotel, where they were working that day with MacAskill and another visiting reporter from The Guardian, James Ball.
Poitras was putting together a new video about Snowden that would be posted in a few days on The Guardian’s Web site. The room was crowded — there weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so someone was always sitting on the bed or floor.
A number of thumb drives were passed back and forth, though I was not told what was on them.Poitras and Greenwald were worried about Snowden. At the moment, he was stuck in diplomatic limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, the most-wanted man on the planet, sought by the U.S. Two days later, while she was working at Greenwald’s house, Poitras also heard from him.It was dusk, and there was loud cawing and hooting coming from the jungle all around. Through a window, I saw Poitras in the living room, intently working at one of her computers. I let myself in through a screen door, and she glanced up for just a second, then went back to work, completely unperturbed by the cacophony around her.
After 10 minutes, she closed the lid of her computer and mumbled an apology about needing to take care of some things.She showed no emotion and did not mention that she had been in the middle of an encrypted chat with Snowden. At the time, I didn’t press her, but a few days later, after I returned to New York and she returned to Berlin, I asked if that’s what she was doing that evening. She confirmed it, but said she didn’t want to talk about it at the time, because the more she talks about her interactions with Snowden, the more removed she feels from them.“It’s an incredible emotional experience,” she said, “to be contacted by a complete stranger saying that he was going to risk his life to expose things the public should know. My experience and relationship to that is something that I want to retain an emotional relation to.” Her connection to him and the material, she said, is what will guide her work. If I were to sit and do endless cable interviews — all those things alienate me from what I need to stay connected to.
It’s someone’s life.”Poitras and Greenwald are an especially dramatic example of what outsider reporting looks like in 2013.
They do not work in a newsroom, and they personally want to be in control of what gets published and when. When The Guardian didn’t move as quickly as they wanted with the first article on Verizon, Greenwald discussed taking it elsewhere, sending an encrypted draft to a colleague at another publication. He also considered creating a Web site on which they would publish everything, which he planned to call NSADisclosures.
But Poitras and Greenwald have created their own publishing network as well, placing articles with other outlets in Germany and Brazil and planning more for the future. They have not shared the full set of documents with anyone.“We are in partnership with news organizations, but we feel our primary responsibility is to the risk the source took and to the public interest of the information he has provided,” Poitras said.
You know that, right?” His left political views, combined with his cutting style, have made him unloved among many in the political establishment. It’s called protecting America.”Poitras, while not nearly as confrontational as Greenwald, disagrees with the suggestion that their work amounts to advocacy by partisan reporters. A shadow and secret government has grown and grown, all in the name of national security and without the oversight or national debate that one would think a democracy would have.
As Snowden mentioned, “In the wake of this year’s disclosure, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.” A new generation of sources, like Snowden or Pfc. Bradley Manning, has access to not just a few secrets but thousands of them, because of their ability to scrape classified networks. They do not necessarily live in and operate through the established Washington networks — Snowden was in Hawaii, and Manning sent hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks from a base in Iraq. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.”Snowden’s revelations are now the center of Poitras’s surveillance documentary, but Poitras also finds herself in a strange, looking-glass dynamic, because she cannot avoid being a character in her own film.
She did not appear in or narrate her previous films, and she says that probably won’t change with this one, but she realizes that she has to be represented in some way, and is struggling with how to do that.She is also assessing her legal vulnerability. They do not plan to stay away from America forever, but they have no immediate plans to return. One member of Congress has already likened what they’ve done to a form of treason, and they are well aware of the Obama administration’s unprecedented pursuit of not just leakers but of journalists who receive the leaks.
Greenwald said that the government would be unwise to arrest them, because of the bad publicity it would create.
It also wouldn’t stop the flow of information.He mentioned this while we were in a taxi heading back to his house.
She is not as expansive or carefree as Greenwald, which adds to their odd-couple chemistry. They have published only a handful — a top-secret, headline-grabbing, Congressional-hearing-inciting handful — and seem unlikely to publish everything, in the style of WikiLeaks. They are holding onto more secrets than they are exposing, at least for now.“We have this window into this world, and we’re still trying to understand it,” Poitras said in one of our last conversations.



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