The filmmaker who has been working closely with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden also has a close working relationship with another famed NSA whistleblower, William Binney.
Snowden granted Academy Award-nominated documentary maker Laura Poitras rare access for months prior to publically coming forward as the leaker.
Her byline appeared on the Washington Post article that broke the story detailing PRISM, the top-secret NSA surveillance program that reportedly gathered intelligence from Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other Internet giants.
Poitras’s byline also appeared in the London Guardian article in which Snowden was identified as the NSA leaker.
Poitras made a video of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald interviewing Snowden, purportedly in Hong Kong. The video was posted on the Guardian’s website.
Snowden likely chose Poitras because of her years-long crusade to expose NSA domestic surveillance, which brought her together with Binney, who has sought to expose surveillance of Americans.
After working in the intelligence community for more than 30 years, Binney retired from the NSA in 2001. He co-founded a unit on automating NSA signals intelligence and served as technical leader for intelligence in 2001.
Binney became a vocal critic of the NSA after his retirement. He has estimated the NSA has intercepted 20 trillion communications “transactions” of Americans, including emails, phone calls and financial data. He has claimed the NSA is “purposefully violating the Constitution.”
His home was raided in 2007 as part of a leak investigation in which he was eventually cleared. Binney had been accused of serving as a source for a 2005 New York Times article exposing the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program. His NSA security clearances reportedly have been revoked.
Poitras herself has had security problems within the U.S. She told Democracy Now! she is detained and questioned by federal agents whenever she enters the country and that her laptop, cell phone and personal items are routinely searched.
The filmmaker has worked closely with Binney. In August 2012, she produced a New York Times “op-doc” video interview with Binney. The documentary shows the NSA whistleblower at a conference declaring, “NSA’s charter was to do foreign intelligence and I was with that and did that all the way. Unfortunately they took those programs that I built and turned them on you, and I’m sorry for that.”
In April 2012, Poitras held a surveillance teach-in with Binney at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City to promote one of her films.
The teach-in was described by Filmmaker Magazine as “part technological seminar, part radical teach-in, and part DeLillo-esque spy theatre.”
At the teach-in, Binney stated, “The data trail we leave behind tells a story that may be full of facts but may not be true.”
He also stated, “Whatever happens to any of us, it was murder,” and “I have made clear to my supporters I will never commit suicide.”
Binney himself has commented on Snowden’s revelations, saying he would have approached the situation differently.
“I wouldn’t have done it that way, OK, because I would have tried to work the system first,” he told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.
“So, but, I mean, if you make the decision, you have to suffer the consequences. And with the government we have, they’re going to be pretty harsh, I think. So, they’re going to try to do whatever they can to him.”
With research by Brenda J. Elliott.