Saturday, March 18, 2017

Citizenfour (2014)

It was a trollish start for the now famous NSA whistle-blower. He was in fact more than the average troll communicating with encrypted emails which likewise required pass keys to read. To Laura Poitras, documentary filmmaker, and Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian both of whom he was trying to feel out for months he was Citizenfour.

What Glenn and Laura have worked on in their careers functioned like resumes – Iraq War, Guantanamo, the War on Terror. Citizenfour’s story was within the genre shall we say. Laura in particular had had the experience of being harassed by the State after her documentary My Country which is why Citizenfour got to her first. Her paranoia already has her practice email encryption.

On June 2013 satisfied with what he found out everyone finally met face to face at The Mira Hotel in Hongkong.  The Guardian also sends in Ewen MacAskill to backup Glenn. Citizenfour introduces himself as Edward Snowden. He has a story of a lifetime.

The documentary relies heavily on the shots of the interview which felt like 60 to 70 percent. It’s like being given an eye on the very first few days Snowden has decided to come out. We see what the reporters are seeing; hear their line of questioning. We judge. 

Rest of the shots are videos clippings from TV, court, and legislative inquiry about State surveillance before, during, and since those fateful days at the Hong Kong hotel room.  Chief of those clips is the US Commander in Chief which points out the Snowden is not a hero. It’s like a debate: it is real, is it right, hero or traitor?

Expectedly, some of the question asked of Snowden were of his motivations, work history, and fears. Glenn asked if privacy was of such import why stretch out your neck like this. Snowden answered that it was about, “State power against the people’s ability to meaningfully oppose that power.”

His job at the NSA was to amplify State power. God forbid the policymakers become at little more unsavoury, he says it’s not possible to mount meaningful opposition.

Edward Snowden makes a good first impression. He comes off as smart and confident; not too nerdy as one would have thought of a computer expert.  Sometimes I think he’s too relaxed or at least a far cry from what I imagine myself to be if I told the world that an all-seeing eye exists. It could be that he has already worked himself a brave mask which people often put on when they leave home every day. Also it could be we just weren’t there when the lights are out and he felt more alone.

Despite Glenn’s protest – he was working on the assumption that Snowden had a little more time than he had thought or will never be found out – wanted to be immediately fingered as the leak. His hope is to avoid possible collateral damages to his loved ones that a prolonged mole hunt would bring.

Going into the technical side Snowden then described his job; some basics; what he had access to in matters of equipment because of his security clearance. He didn’t get down and nerdy – at least not on camera – with the technicalities of the system.  He gave the basics and have a cache of documents which the Guardian can verify to their satisfaction.  

The participation of the media here in Laura as well as that of Glenn and Ewen of the Guardian was his version of check and balance – an editorial board to his leaked documents. Snowden didn’t believe in just opening all documents up for all the world to see.

For better technical and more in depth understanding of Edward Snowden’s revelations it is best to just go to what the Guardian has made available.

The debate on whether Snowden was a hero or traitor is not for me. It’s an American question. The documentary is always framed in a manner that says spying on American citizens. From that I can certainly have my views but not the hero traitor debate.

But if people can fear a still to be born Skynet-type Artificial Intelligence which will put the world in peril then certainly the question of surveillance and an all-seeing eye is not far off. The system is here.

It can certainly do good like any other tool ever created or it just needs one bad day.

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