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Laura Poitras, a founding editor of The Intercept, won an Academy Award tonight for her documentary

Citizenfour, an inside look at Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower.
The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed dont only expose a threat to our privacy but to our
democracy itself, Poitras said in her acceptance speech. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his
courage and for the many other whistleblowers. Snowden, in a statement released after the award was
announced, said, My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be
inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.
The film, which has been hailed as a real-life thriller, chronicles Snowdens effort to securely contact
Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in 2013 and meet them in Hong Kong, where Poitras filmed Snowden
discussing the thousands of classified NSA documents he was leaking to them, and his motives for
doing so. The film takes its title from the pseudonym Snowden used when he contacted Poitras in
encrypted emails that were revealed in her documentary.
If you publish the source material, one of his first emails said, I will likely be immediately
implicated. This must not deter you from releasing the information I will provide. Thank you, and be
careful.
Citizenfour received widespread acclaim when it was released last year. The New York Times said it
was a primal political fable for the digital age, while Indiewire described it as the stuff of Orwellian
nightmares it plays like the greatest paranoid thriller since All the Presidents Men. Prior to the
Academy Awards, it won a number of prizes for best documentary from the New York Film Critics

Circle, the Directors Guild of America and other organizations.


The documentary is centered around the extraordinary footage Poitras shot of Snowden in his hotel
room with Greenwald and Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, who also travelled to Hong Kong. The
film includes scenes of Snowden preparing to leave the hotel to go into hiding after the first NSA
stories were published, along with a video interview in which Snowden revealed his identity. Snowden
eventually slipped out of Hong Kong and, after becoming stranded in Moscows Sheremetyevo airport,
was offered political asylum in Russia, where he currently resides.
The documents leaked by Snowden have revealed the NSAs dragnet surveillance of American phone
records, as well as the agencys extensive efforts to infiltrate and compromise global
telecommunications networks. The NSAs activities have been condemned by civil liberties advocates
in the United States as well as by foreign governments that have been spied on by the agency. The
stories written about the documents have earned Pulitzer Prizes for The Guardian and The Washington
Post (which also received documents from Snowden). Those publications, as well as The Intercept and
other news organizations, including Der Spiegel in Germany, continue to publish major stories about
the NSAs surveillance activities, such as an article just a few days ago that revealed the NSA and its
British counterpart, the GCHQ, had stolen billions of cellphone encryption keys from a Dutch firm.
Poitras, who in 2012 was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, had earned an Academy
Award nomination for a previous film, My Country, My Country, about the Iraq war. Released in
2006, it was the first in a trilogy of films about America after 9/11; the second, released in 2010, was
The Oath, filmed in Yemen and Guantnamo Bay. Citizenfour is the final film in the trilogy, which
Poitras has described as an examination of American power in the war on terror.
Poitras herself came under the type of government surveillance that the Snowden documents outline.
After her Iraq film was released, she was stopped dozens of times at U.S. and foreign airports and
questioned by border agents; her name had apparently been placed on one of the U.S. governments
terrorism watchlists. This put her into an unusual position a documentarian who was under
surveillance while working on a documentary about surveillance.
It was a short film by Poitras about the NSA, focusing on whistleblower William Binney, that brought
her to the attention of Snowden. He saw the film, which was called The Program and was published
as a New York Times op-doc in 2012, and realized Poitras was reporting on the NSA and that she
probably had enough knowledge of encryption practices to communicate with him securely. He later
explained that he trusted her and Greenwald, who is another founding editor of The Intercept, more
than any major media outlets in the post-9/11 era.
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, Snowden has said. 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.

Poitras, who studied film at the San Francisco Art Institute and political theory at The New School
before turning to journalism, will have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 2016.
This story was updated with comments from Poitras and Snowden.
Photo: John Shearer/Invision/AP
Email the author: peter.maass@theintercept.com