When Poitras met Snowden

People hold masks with the face of Edward J. Snowden at a hearing in Brazil on the N.S.A.'s surveillance programs. Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters.

Peter Maass in the New York Times has a fascinating tick-tock/profile on how filmmaker Laura Poitras (who has produced online op-doc films for the NYT) connected with NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Seconds after she decrypted and read the e-mail, Poitras disconnected from the Internet and removed the message from her computer. “I thought, O.K., if this is true, my life just changed,” she told me last month. “It was staggering, what he claimed to know and be able to provide. I just knew that I had to change everything.”
She was right: her life would never be the same. And, not to bury the lede here: Maass has a Q&A with Snowden himself today.

Laura Poitras, at work in Berlin. Olaf Blecker for The New York Times

Why did Snowden pick Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, instead of more mainstream journalists at outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and so on? Snowden replies:

After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period. Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. 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.

Andrew Beaujon at Poynter spoke to Maass about whether he now uses encrypted communication with sources. “I do now!” said Maass.

Seriously, one of the reasons encryption isn’t deeply embedded (yet) in the reporting world is that both parties have to be using it. Not enough journalists use it, that’s for sure, but the same goes for sources. Everyone needs to use encryption a lot more (it’s not that hard, really) and Tor.

Notable Replies

  1. teapot says:


    America. Is. A. Laughable. Shithole.

  2. America is made up of humans and we have a track record. Where it fails is the point where We like to say "You know, WE'RE better. We're free, kind and more humane than anybody else on this planet." When you're promised from the top that's what they strive for and do bullshitty things, it really, really hurts...

  3. I don't hate my country, but I agree wholeheartedly with teahole here.

    Look, go to Europe, go to Asia, go to Canada and Mexico, even, and come back to the USA and tell me which place is "better." I mean, come on. The only things that're significantly different about the USA are our ability to use credit to buy opulent amounts of shit, and our incessant streams of media programming us and feeding our denial of reality 24/7, promoting an out-of-touchness with nature and our own bodies. These other places have consumption and media brainwashing and health problems, just not at the intense level that we do.

    Otherwise, the USA isn't that different. There's poverty, there's crumbling infrastructure, there's corrupt assholes running the place, with a few good and high-minded folks there right behind them cleaning up the messes, slowly, diligently, fearlessly. That's the same as it ever was, the same as everywhere because


  4. Depends on what measures of progress you're going by. For example, it's now relatively rare for our elected representatives to publicly and unapologetically direct horrific racial slurs at fellow politicians. Even the craziest right-wing politicians we have probably couldn't get away with saying a black representative "looks like an orangutan" or that she "should be raped."

  5. America's leadership is a bunch of hypocritical asshole lizards. Note that most Americans aren't lizards, we just vote for lizards because if we don't, the wrong lizard might get in.

    And if too many Americans vote with their lizard brain, the wrong lizard gets voted in.

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