Laura Poitras's Astro Noise: indispensable book and gallery show about mass surveillance

Laura Poitras is the Macarthur-winning, Oscar-winning documentarian who made Citizenfour. Her life has been dogged by government surveillance and harassment, and she has had to become a paranoid OPSEC ninja just to survive.


Poitras has a show on at NYC's Whitney Museum, Astro Noise, that is accompanied by a book in which Poitras exposes, for the first time, her intimate notes on her life in the targeting reticule of the US government at its most petty and vengeful.

The book includes accompanying work by Ai Weiwei, Edward Snowden, Dave Eggers, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Lakhdar Boumediene, Kate Crawford and me -- I wrote a Sherlock Holmes story based on then-unpublished Snowden docs about GCHQ's data-mining and malware implantation programs.

In Wired, Andy Greenberg offers a sneak peek at the book and the exhibition, both of which are important moments in the story of mass surveillance in the 21st century.

When Snowden contacts her in January of 2013, Poitras has lived with the specter of spying long enough that she initially wonders if he might be part of a plan to entrap her or her contacts like Julian Assange or Jacob Appelbaum, an activist and Tor developer. “Is C4 a trap?” she asks herself, using an abbreviation of Snowden’s codename. “Will he put me in prison?”

Even once she decides he’s a legitimate source, the pressure threatens to overwhelm her. The stress becomes visceral: She writes that she feels like she’s “underwater” and that she can hear the blood rushing through her body. “I am battling with my nervous system,” she writes. “It doesn’t let me rest or sleep. Eye twitches, clenched throat, and now literally waiting to be raided.”

Finally she decides to meet Snowden and to publish his top secret leaks, despite her fears of both the risks to him and to herself. Both the journal and the documents she obtained from the government show how her own targeting helped to galvanize her resolve to expose the apparatus of surveillance. “He is prepared for the consequences of the disclosure,” she writes, then admits: “I really don’t want to become the story.”

In the end, Poitras has not only escaped the arrest or indictment she feared, but has become a kind of privacy folk hero: Her work has helped to noticeably shift the world’s view of government spying, led to legislation, and won both a Pulitzer and an Academy Award. But if her ultimate fear was to “become the story,” her latest revelations show that’s a fate she can no longer escape–and one she’s come to accept.

Snowden’s Chronicler Reveals Her Own Life Under Surveillance [Andy Greenberg/Wired]


(Image: Andy Greenberg)