Hero or Villain?


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


             It’s likely that any audience watching Citizenfour will be divided at the ticket booth. It is equally likely that they will still be mired in disagreement as they leave the theater. For some, Edward Snowden is a hero, for others, a villain. Laura Poitras’ documentary explores the cause, the effects, and the timeline of the announcement that he took secret documents while working at the National Security Agency. It is also true that there have been no accusations that any Snowden revelations have compromised American interests.
            Laura Poitras - documentary filmmaker and journalist - and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian are the two people Edward Snowden chose as the conduit to the public for his revelations. They traveled to Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room in 2013 where Poitras filmed and Greenwald asked the questions. This movie is their conversation. The news is that the NSA has the selective ability to listen to every single phone call, email, Internet search, and keystroke of every American. Public opinion divides right there: Conservatives accept domestic surveillance as an anti-terrorist weapon while Liberals consider it the pathway to a police state.
            The principle of violating privacy to protect security is rooted deeply in the passage of the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. From that point forward the NSA has spied on Americans without limit. Few people outside the agency even know what they do. When Snowden grasped the scale and secrecy of the surveillance in the NSA he decided to go public. Since then he has been living in a hotel room in Moscow. He cannot come home. While there is no legal defense for his action, there is no other way the issue could have entered the public debate. Does it belong there?
            Your opinion of Snowden after this film will hinge on your belief as to whether he was motivated by anything other than conscience. At 29, he was successful in the most glamorous outfit in intelligence work. He took tough precautions to ensure that neither his family nor his co-workers would be accused of guilt by their association with him.
            The real question is whether our press and president will address the question or whether the NSA, and CIA will continue to operate without oversight. The fabricated testimony of beribboned military officers lying to Congress is the measure of the necessity for whistle-blowers. Lying to Congress long ago became common practice in the name of “national security.” It does not count as oversight.
            Actions by the CIA and NSA have changed the course of history in secrecy for years without the consent of the President or Congress. To dismiss the threat with “but we have nothing to hide,” is to miss the danger. The point is that our beliefs – conservative or liberal - may well become suspect in the future under a more powerful government. Edward Snowden’s warning: “We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind.”


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Citizenfour
Distributor : Praxis Films
Running Time : 1:54
Word Count : 498
Rating : R

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