Snowden filmmaker: Lawmakers ‘failed the public’

Filmmaker Laura Poitras has harsh words for members of Congress she thinks have sat idly on the sidelines while intelligence agencies stretch the limits of the law.

“Our elected officials have failed the public,” Poitras, whose reporting based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year, told The Hill in an interview on Friday.


“I’m appreciative of the work that [Sen.] Ron Wyden [D-Ore.] has done on the topic, but I also think the kind of dance and hinting around doesn’t really inform people; it just tells us that there is something awry, something amiss,” she said.

Poitras has previously criticized lawmakers like Wyden for not announcing details of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) programs — which he is privy to as a member of the Intelligence Committee — on the floor of the Senate.

Recently, Wyden has pushed for the committee to release a report on the CIA’s past interrogation and detention methods, which is expected to brutally detail “waterboarding” and other controversial practices. A standoff with the Obama administration has so far kept that so-called "torture report" hidden.

“If either the CIA or the executive branch don’t want to publish it, then I don’t understand why somebody on the committee who worked on this report doesn’t just take the floor and start to read it,” Poitras told The Hill. “They have immunity.”

Wyden has pushed back against that line of argument.

In a recent interview with Wired, the Oregon Democrat said that his approach keeps him on the committee and “it would be valuable to have me in the room rather than outside.”

Poitras was not satisfied with that response.

“I would like maybe a bit more moral leadership among the people who have concerns about these programs,” she told The Hill. “I think history would want that too.”

Poitras made a film documenting the time she and journalist Glenn Greenwald met Snowden in Hong Kong last summer, called "Citizenfour"— a reference to Snowden’s pseudonym during his early contact with her. The film centers on Snowden as well as other people who criticized government spying, such as former NSA employee William Binney.

The surreal, claustrophobic scenes of Poitras, Greenwald and Snowden in a cramped Hong Kong hotel room paint a complicated portrait of the former contractor who fled the country with secret NSA documents.

In the year and a half since Snowden’s revelations shocked the world, however, Congress has yet to pass any NSA reform legislation. 

The gobal impact was nonetheless evident, Poitras said.

“There’s definitely a global shift in consciousness and I think we’re already seeing a technological shift, so I don’t think [nothing changing] is a possibility,” she said, noting tech companies’ increasing trend to provide better encryption and digital protections.  

“I think it’s a mistake to ever think that you’re living in a historical moment and it’s not possible that that can change,” she added. 

"Citizenfour"opens in Washington and other select cities on Friday.