Snowden, Director Oliver Stone. B+. Film Review.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley as Snowden and Mills.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley as Snowden and Mills.

There is a Snowden documentary Citizen Four  by Laura Poitras and Snowden the drama (trailer) by Oliver Stone. Stone is a highly skilled director and screenwriter who has won Oscars for his films. He wrote the screenplay with Kieran Fitzgerald while the documentary stars Edward Snowden in person the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Snowden with Shailene Woodley as Lindsey Mills, his life partner (apparently they never formally married although they have been together for a long time).

The main difference between the documentary and the film is that Stone humanizes  Snowden and shows the events that led up to his decision to go public with classified documents that he believes reveal that the government  is illegally spying on its own citizens.

As opposed to dumping the data unedited on the internet Snowden chooses to go public through a responsible liberal news organization located in Great Britain named The Guardian that will edit names and other unnecessary but dangerous facts. When writer Glen Greenwald( Zachary Quinto), Laura Poitas documentary film maker (Melissa Leo) and Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) an editor of the Guardian meet with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel named Mira the movie unfolds from their discussions with flash backs in his life  that lead up to his disclosure of classified programs designed to spy not just on hostile foreigners but everyone in the world that communicates by cell phone or computer.

The first flash back is of Snowden as a volunteer in training for the Special Forces which he is forced to leave because of a broken leg and other sub fractures. This apparently was to show his patriotism and loyalty to the United State and the principles for which it stands. The picture moves back and forth between the discussions in the hotel and Snowden’s life events. He meets Lindsey Mills on line while he is in the hospital recovering and learns he will be discharged from the Army for medical reasons. She is a young liberal and an amateur photographer.  Her life style, which is open and unconcerned about her on line profile as most young people her age are, is juxtaposed by Snowden’s increasing knowledge and concern  that the most private details of all American lives is being collected and stored. He is aware of the FISA court’s secret and classified alleged oversight of the NSA and the CIA’s activities in data collection is a thin excuse for constitutionality.  He is also aware that the spy agencies  get their warrant requests  rubber stamped and even  this procedure is often by passed.

He applies after discharge to the CIA and despite the fact  he doesn’t have a high school diploma he is accepted into computer training by Corbin O’Brien a CIA officer  (Rys Ifans) who is impressed with his intelligence and computer skills. O”Brien seeing his potential becomes his mentor and career guide.

Snowden is stationed in Switzerland but is “D-ROGED” by his supervisor for exceeding his authority. This is normally is a career ender but O’Brien has him moved to the field branch where he becomes disillusioned with an operation to compromise an otherwise innocent Pakistani Banker. He resigns his post and returns to the United States with Lindsey. They are happier back in Maryland but Snowden conscious of his superior computer skills feels compelled to use them in what he believes as defending the United States. He comes from a family with a distinguished record of service in the U.S. military. His grandfather, an admiral, was assigned to the Pentagon on 9/11 but unhurt.

Slowly he concludes that the Bush Government is acting unconstitutionally against its own people but with his association with Lindsey and when Obama is elected president he hopes things will be corrected.

However he learns that we are depositing sleeper programs in most  of the World’s computer systems which would enable the shut down of their vital infrastructures on command. Also, he sees drone strikes on people talking on cell phones believed to be in the hands of terrorists. He is offended by the casualness of the drone commands activities which take innocent lives along with terrorist lives. He has been assigned to an intelligence contractor in Hawaii and is living a comfortable suburban life with Lindsey but he is aware the government’s activities remained unchanged.

He aware that past complainers or whistleblowers have been demoted or have been isolated in non-essential posts and at least on one occasion a frustrated whistleblower has gone to the press and was then prosecuted under the Espionage Act which only provides for a secret closed trial in which a  verdict of guilty is preordained. He suffers from epilepsy and the pressures of his job cause him to stop taking his anti-seizure medicine so he can more effective. It also makes him more susceptible to seizures.

The final straw comes when he sees the Director Of National Intelligence, James Clapper, in testimony before Congress testify under oath that the intelligence agencies are not wittingly collecting data on U.S. citizens within the country which Snowden knows  to be incorrect.

He then gets permission to index all spy programs into a program he designs called Heartbeat. He downloads this information on a chip and goes to a pre-planned meeting with the journalists. He hopes to gain asylum in Ecuador but his passport  was revoked while en-route in Moscow where he remains today.

This picture is designed to show Snowden as an intelligent, conscientious, normal human rather than a cold, stoic egghead without a life and nothing to lose by his actions is cinematically excellent, the acting is superb and the story is well told. It got lukewarm reviews from the “mainline” critics who pander  to the horror, comic book audience which constitutes their readership. However it is an intelligent film well done and deserves better from these critics who should  be leading instead of following.

At present Snowden supporters are seeking a pardon or a public trial on lesser charges. However the sentiments of the bureaucracy is summed up at the end by Gen. Michael Hayden former head of the NSA  saying “He’ll die in Moscow.”





What makes Edward Snowden’s case different from Daniel Ellsberg’s case.  They both worked for the U.S. Government in some capacity. Snowden for the NSA by way of Booz, Allen and Hamilton, Ellsberg as  Marine Corps Officer, Rand employee and Pentagon Assistant to Secretary McNamara. Both worked in intelligence, Snowden as a Data Systems Manager, Ellsberg as intelligence analyst at Rand and in the Pentagon.  They both released voluminous amounts of material: Ellsberg the “Pentagon Papers” which  revealed that the government knew that the Viet Nam war could not be won, yet we were drafting men  and sending them  to their deaths or injuries in a lost cause.(See the movie Born On The  Fourth of July about Ron Kovic who was made a  near quadriplegic at age 18 in Viet Nam.)

Snowden revealed the extent of NSA surveillance of innocent people in the United States and abroad for no purpose except to create a huge data base on every one for possible future use such as the PRISM program and much more including  the  copying and storing of personal Yahoo messaging videos for instance by the British.

Ellsberg has a PhD from Harvard, Edward Snowden had a GED and some college credits, both appeared to be methodical in their methods in regard to the type of materials leaked and the purpose of the leak. Ellsworth stood trial but the case was dismissed for government misconduct. The Watergate plumbers burglarized his psychiatrist’s office among other things. The Ellsberg leak was in the 1970’s almost forty years ago.

In the case of Chelsea ( b. Bradley)  Manning she like Snowden had an education limited to a few college courses. She had a troubled family life and after enlistment in the Army at age 19 had a troubled existence in the Army. At her trial witnesses in her behalf said her mother drank during pregnancy and her lawyer proposed that Manning showed evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome. Whatever her personal circumstances she was morally outraged at some of the documents and videos that she was exposed to as an intelligence technician in Iraq. In particular was a now famous Apache helicopter attack on a group of unarmed civilians on an Iraqi street corner. By some unknown conduit she released the video and about 750,000 combat reports and diplomatic cables to Wiki leaks. These were published in the Guardian, The N.Y. Times and other leading newspapers much like Snowden’s and Ellsberg’s leak.

Of the three none was motivated by money or under the control of a foreign power but moved by the callous deception of the public by the U.S. Government in their conduct of a war. Ellsberg the Viet Nam War, Snowden The War On Terrorism, Manning the War on Terrorism and the Iraq War. Manning was convicted and is in an Army Prison sentenced to 35 years but experts say he will not serve the whole sentence. Ellsberg has been an advocate for government transparency since the criminal case against him was dismissed; Snowden has been indicted but is out of reach of the U.S. Government as he is exiled in Moscow where he has the benefit of a lawyer connected to the Russian FSB (Like our CIA). He says he will return if he is guaranteed a jury trial. Attorney General Holder will not negotiate with him. Normally persons who divulge state secrets don’t get an open jury trial but a secret trial before a judge or  a panel.

Ellsberg tried to have Senators release the papers and when this failed he  went public on his own. Snowden was aware of the fate of prior whistle blowers who went through the official procedures. These people usually lost their jobs and were ostracized, some  were even prosecuted. Manning seems to have gone directly to Wiki leaks through an intermediary without seeking other legal means of disclosure. If she did it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. Her leak seems to be more a personal cry for help although triggered by what she saw in the videos and documents. Ellsberg and Snowden appear to have made a calculated decision to go public no matter what the consequences on moral and intellectual grounds.

At the present time Snowden has more  public support for his actions than the Government has for its position  and he would almost surely win a jury trial if it is granted. However A.G. Holder has followed a strict application of the law and refuses to guarantee him one. Thus he has  continued to be  exiled in Moscow.

The solution is to prosecute persons and policy makers in the Government who deliberately violate the public trust or the Constitutional and legal principles of our government. Then there will not be any secrets for whistleblowers to expose.

Also it is necessary to have a separate agency to handle whistleblowers outside and independent  of the agencies that the whistleblowers are reporting on. One that will protect the whistleblowers not punish them. Then the whistleblower laws will have credence.

As for Snowden give him his public jury trial. The secrets are out anyway and let a jury decide if he was right or wrong. This is much better than having him in Russia with an FSB lawyer for counsel.











Representative Mike Rodgers (Mich.) of the House Intelligence Committee has accused Snowden  on  the network shows, Face the Nation and Meet The Press of receiving help from the Russians based on the fact that he was granted asylum in Russia and that he now must be in the “the loving arms of an FSB(Russian CIA) agent.” This is all based on his extrapolation of the nature and type of files he downloaded which he contends was not within Snowdens capabilities. See snowden-no-random-smash-and-grab .

A PBS report  by Tom Gjelten on September 19, 2013, describes Snowden’s job duties as follows:

“According to the officials, the documents leaked — the memoranda, PowerPoint slides, agency reports, court orders and opinions — had all been stored in a file-sharing location on the NSA’s intranet site. The documents were put there so NSA analysts and officials could read them online and discuss them. revelations

“Unfortunately for us,” one official said, “if you had a top secret SCI [sensitive compartmented information] clearance, you got access to that.”

The importance of such information-sharing procedures was one of the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies were unable to “connect the dots” before the attacks because they were not always aware of what other agencies knew.

As a systems administrator, Snowden actually had the responsibility to go to the NSA intranet site and move especially sensitive documents to a more secure location. The assignment was the perfect cover for someone who wanted to leak documents.

“It’s kind of brilliant, if you’re him,” an official said. “His job was to do what he did. He wasn’t a ghost. He wasn’t that clever. He did his job. He was observed [moving documents], but it was his job.”

Rogers statement  conflicts with what was told to the PBS reporter about Snowden’s access to the information leaked. Rogers seems to be continuing the government disinformation campaign against Snowden. There is no evidence he even thought about Russia or was in contact with them before he was forced to go there after the Chinese denied him asylum and he received help and advice from the British team advising Julian Assange. If he is in Russia it is because it was the only reachable place to get asylum after he was marooned in the Moscow airport.

However Rodgers’s did point out that if Snowden’s point was to expose NSA’s spying on everyday Americans  why did he download so much data, much of it revealing NSA’s operations around the World against friend and foe alike. revelations

It could not have been for a bargaining chip for amnesty with the government because he says he released it all to three reporters early on. OR DID HE?

Rogers is on the oversight committee that allowed the NSA surveillance activities that President Obama has stated have gone too far and need to be modified.

So one wonders why the NSA program was allowed to go so far if Congressman Rogers and his committee  was not asleep at the wheel.

The facts that are coming out indicate there really was no meaningful oversight of NSA,  not by FISA, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rep. Roger’s committee or any one else. They turned out to be a bunch of yes men and women.

In the past NSA  could not be sued in court because the case would be dismissed on national security grounds. It is only because of the Snowden revelations that  two recent cases dealing with the Constitutional issues raised by the NSA’s vast  data  gathering programs have survived and been allowed to proceed to a verdict in open court. One in favor of NSA and one against.  ACLU v. ClapperKlayman v. Obama.


Whistle blowers in the past have all tried to go through the channels in place for notifying the authorities of government irregularities and failed usually at the expense of their careers or even criminal prosecution. Snowden knew this as probably every other  person  who saw government illegalities and kept quiet for fear of retribution. Perhaps if the government had made a point of protecting Whistle Blowers who followed the rules instead of denigrating and ostracising them  these leaks by idealists would  stop.

Instead of pointing the finger after the horse is gone from the barn Rogers should be investigating how such an event could occur. They still don’t know how Snowden got the information out or how much he has taken. Thus NSA with all its alleged capabilities missed a huge, sensitive, data, internal transfer of millions of pages of documents it was gathering illegally and for which it was  responsible.

Whatever Snowden’s plan is we will have a debate and probably a Supreme Court decision as to what the power of the government is to  intrude  in innocent people’s private lives and maybe even the limits of commercial data gathering . If nothing else his leak has created a positive dialogue. Remember privacy is dignity.