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.”



December 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: asylum, Brazil, EDWARD SNOWDEN, leaks, NSA, power, terrorism 


 They’re about power… Not prevention of terrorism.


Snowden reveals his belief of the real purpose of NSA spying in an open letter to the people of  Brazil published in the Brazilian newspaper Folia de Sao Paulo                       

 Saying: ” There is a huge difference between legal programs , legitimate spying , legitimate law enforcement- where individuals are targeted on a reasonable individualized suspicion- and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations behind an all seeing eye and save copies for ever. These programs were never about terrorism: They’re about economic spying , social control and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

Snowden’s insight into the nature of the NSA program and other government programs that it was basically control of whole populations of people rather than to locate terrorists is correct. How many terrorists did they expect to locate in the president of Brazil’s Dilma Rouseff’s personal calls or Angela Merkal, Chancellor of Germany’s personal calls or the personal calls of millions of ordinary people scooped up en mass.

NSA programs were allegedly different for foreigners than for American people where only “meta data” was collected. However there is evidence that not only meta data was being collected in the United States but every electronic communication as well with the justification we only look at substance after we have suspicions that the creator has committed a crime.

This is an enormous power far beyond necessary policing power or the power allegedly necessary to combat terrorists and apparently ineffectual in that regard. We knew nothing about the plans of Boston bombers before hand or the Times Square bomber in advance.

We  once had a Federal bureau of Investigation head,  J. Edgar Hoover, who collected files on politicians and other people he wished to control for almost  forty years. This helped to maintain his powerful position in Washington until he died long past his effectiveness as  the leader of the  FBI. This megalomaniac let  criminal organizations like the Mafia flower on his watch  while puffing up his crime fighting statistics by adding to the total every minor crime. Taking a stolen or reportedly stolen car over state lines was a big item. He became a master of his own self importance while investigating ordinary citizens and politicians in order to intimidate them for his own power rather than for the safety of the public.

You say this information the NSA seek  could not be used to control people and enhance their own power but as said above  it has already been done by Hoover.

The Framers of the Constitution were escaping oppressive British rule and control of their lives. That is why we have separation of powers in our own government and Fourth Amendment guarantees against illegal searches and seizures among other things.

Yet when so much power and control is centralized in a few agencies of government the opportunities for abuse of that power are great.  The FISA  oversight court and the congressional committees charged with protecting the values of the Constitution are willing to look with a blind eye or willing to bend basic principles based on the testimony of the mangers of the very agencies they are supposed to supervise and control in the interest of the public. These agencies may not always divulge the true nature and scope of their activities. Witness National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s misleading testimony before Congress on the nature of data collected.

Richard J. Leon A Federal District Court Judge  In Washinton D.C.  has already ruled that collection of meta data on all electronic communications is in violation of the Fourth Amendment saying “ I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval” Also he noted that the alleged threat that the government said justified the program was never proved.  Usually the Government demands, due to national security, that the proceeding be in- camera, which means that whatever information they give the judge is not disclosed to the other side or the public and goes unrebutted just as their  testimony before Congress justifying their programs is in secret session unknown to the majority of legislators or the public.

The system that now exists is can easily abused by a government more intent on perpetuating itself in the guise of protecting the public against some external threat. North Korea is doing that now, the Soviet Union did  for most of the Twentieth Century and Snowden rightly perceived that is the direction this country is headed for now. As Lord Acton observed: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What we see now is that the agencies collecting the data are the ones presenting their justification before select courts in secret and to select members of Congress in secret.  In other words the agencies are in control and not the public or their their appointed judges and representatives. This is a recipe for a dictatorship or an oligarchy if that is not the case already. In any event the machinery for such a political coup establishing a police state like East Germany’s during the Cold War  is already in place

The people who have tried to disseminate what was going on before Snowden have lost their jobs, been imprisoned and disparaged as traitors.

Snowden, being rational, took the only course possible since the Executive, the FISA Court and Congress was nonresponsive. He lost his job, is now called a traitor and forced into exile while responsible managers of the agencies disassemble before  Congress and the public saying the external treat is so great that their activities must be condoned. It is always some amorphous external threat, usually greatly exaggerated, which is used as the justification of the suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of a police state.



Mikko Hypponen: Cybersecurity Expert On The Ramifications Of The Edward Snowden Revelations About Prism And Other NSA Spy Programs.



Mikko Hypponen: Cybersecurity expert.

Why you should listen to him:

As a few hundred million more Internet users join the web from India and China and elsewhere, and as governments and corporations become more sophisticated at using viruses as weapons, Hypponen asks, what’s next? Who will be at the front defending the world’s networks from malicious software? He says: “It’s more than unsettling to realize there are large companies out there developing backdoors, exploits and trojans.”

Even more unsettling: revelations this year that the United States’ NSA is conducting widespread digital surveillance of both US citizens and anyone whose data passes through a US entity, and that it has actively sabotaged encryption algorithms. Hypponen has become one of the most outspoken critics of the agency’s programs and asks us all: Why are we so willing to hand over digital privacy?

 WHO IS Mikko Hypponen:

The chief research officer at F-Secure Corporation in Finland, Mikko Hypponen has led his team through some of the largest computer virus outbreaks in history. His team took down the world-wide network used by the Sobig.F worm. He was the first to warn the world about the Sasser outbreak, and he has done classified briefings on the operation of the Stuxnet worm — a hugely complex worm designed to sabotage Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities.