I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!


tn_citizenfourWhen you hear that CITIZENFOUR is a really good documentary about Edward Snowden, you don’t really picture what it actually is. Or at least I didn’t.

I figured it would be a really powerful documentary about the exiled NSA whistleblower and the programs he exposed, the issues they raise about privacy, governmental overreach and technology. It would be really upsetting at times, sometimes shocking, it would use news footage and interviews to tell this story. Hopefully a well put together version of these advocacy documentaries that draw our attention to an important thing going on in the world and tell us some facts about it that we might not’ve known, get us real riled up.

Well, it’s most of those things, except it’s not at all a talking head documentary. What I didn’t know going in is that this movie is part of the leak itself. Before Snowden even met with journalist Glenn Greenwald about the National Security Agency secretly working with telecommunications companies to spy on the phone calls and emails of Americans not even suspected of any crimes, he contacted documentary director Laura Poitras to document it. So this is not a movie telling the story of what happened. This is actual footage of it happening.

The filmatism is also better than in many political documentaries. I was a little put off by the opening text, a first-person message from Poitras about this being part of a post 9-11 trilogy. But I quickly forgave that as the movie began to build an eerie atmosphere with its droning feedback sounds, God’s-eye-view shots of cities, clandestine footage of secret data interception bases and cryptic emails glowing on her monitor.

But most of the movie is more intimate, because it takes place inside a hotel room in Hong Kong, where Snowden meets with Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill from The Guardian for the first time after a bunch of spy movie type sneaking around and using code words. He would be the guy in the cafe playing with a Rubik’s Cube. That cloak and dagger part was not filmed, it’s mostly him sitting in a hotel chair or on a bed. You will be pretty familiar with the mole on his neck and the birthmark on his arm by the time this is over. But the camera operators do a good job of focusing in on different details to keep it from being too visually static.

mp_citizenfourFor a couple days they sit in that room, Snowden tells them what he knows, they take notes. He’s obviously a very smart guy, and he’s very good at explaining how things operate at his job, what capabilities they have, why it worries him, what he expects to happen to him. He seems like he’d make a good teacher. (In Russia.) I like the parts where he takes their laptops and shows them how to cover their tracks a little more. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next BOURNE movie takes some influence from this.

Then Greenwald will go away and post some stories, talk about them on cable news, come back to the room. Snowden sits quietly tapping on his keyboard as he learns from his girlfriend (who he felt he had to abandon without notice while she was on vacation) what’s going on back at what was his home. We see him watch the story unfold on CNN. We see him try to come up with a disguise, and then discover that he’s been found by the media anyway.

Snowden laughs about how nervous he is at first, but he seems very calm. I think about things I’ve done in my life that made me a wreck, and none of them were on the level of overnight making myself a target for the U.S. and other governments, knowing that I may be imprisoned and if not will probly never see my family or country again.

It’s amazing how much the tension can mount even though we know this is a real guy who is still alive and in the wild. The more his information hits the news, and the more he tells us about their capabilities, the more paranoid you start to get. At one point he explains how modern phones can be used to bug a room even when not in use! Because of what they’re up to they have to take every odd occurrence (phone calls, fire alarms) as a possible sign that the Man is onto them. Every time he walked near the window I would feel a little nervous, even though in my brain I knew for a fact he wasn’t gonna get shot.

Well, unless he got sniped and replaced by a lookalike. That would be pretty unsettling in my opinion if that happened in the movie. Don’t worry, it doesn’t, unless it’s a deleted scene. I’ll keep a lookout for that when it comes out on video.

Before seeing the movie my feeling about Snowden was that he seems like kind of a douche, but that what he did was right. After seeing the movie I no longer have to make that separation, because I don’t think he’s a douche. He does not seem to be in it for the glory. He doesn’t make grandstanding speeches, or seem to revel in the drama of all the spycraft. He tends to laugh about what an extreme situation he’s put himself into, like he can hardly believe it, but oh well, that’s life.

He’s also very aware of that douche factor. Greenwald’s instinct is to do whatever he can to keep his source anonymous, but Snowden makes it clear from the beginning that his being found out is inevitable and that no one should suffer to protect him. But for the first few days he prefers to keep himself out of it so the story will be about the programs and not about him. That his personality and politics would become the distraction, the fake issue that some of the coverage would focus on. He was right.

There’s a Snowden-less scene in the movie, an Occupy Wall Street organizer’s meeting, used to explain the concept of how “metadata” can track a political protester or other citizen’s movements and potentially be used to incriminate them if something criminal happens near them. And I have to admit that even a lefty like myself felt some prejudices kicking in seeing how much these people fit the stereotype of leftist New York hipsters. That’s a trick that works on most of us. Make us reject the person to keep us away from the issue. It happens all over the place. Gee, I would be against corporate capitalism/war/police brutality, but I don’t want to be on the team with those smelly anarchist kids and phonies. It’s an innate human weakness. We turn into a bunch of bitchy teenagers worrying about cliques. We have to remember that the issue is not whether or not we would hang out with Snowden. It would be better if we didn’t even know who he was, but that ship has sailed.

There are some other scenes that show the global creep of digital surveillance from different angles. There’s an intense scene in a circuit court where a living stereotype of a weaselly federal lawyer (he’s even wearing a bow tie!) makes the argument that the courts shouldn’t even hear this case about a phone company illegally sharing information because it would compromise national security. The judges are in disbelief at this asshole, but do they have the balls to shut him down? You see the guy in close up, on cinema-quality cameras, it kinda feels like you’re standing next to him. It’s a discussion with monumental stakes, but it’s so… tiny. It’s in a small room, in front of a few people. This is where these things happen, and usually we never hear about it because we don’t know to pay attention, and nobody puts it in a movie for us.

One thing I’ve wondered is how Snowden feels about finding asylum in Russia, which we believe to be a more invasive and abusive government than our own. Did he see it as a necessary sacrifice to keep his home from going further down that road, even though he’ll probly never return there? The movie doesn’t give us an answer to that, but it doesn’t seem like he expected to end up there. For all his planning he does seem pretty uncertain about where he’ll end up. Actually, he seems to plan to be in prison.

I think the shocking thing about these leaks was not so much what they revealed, but just the fact that we now knew for sure. Personally I had long assumed they were doing things like that. If you ever read my book Niketown (paid advertisement) you’ll see I don’t use the word “metadata” but I have the government getting information from private companies and I show a way in which this sort of data profiling could be used harmfully. I’d been working on that book for years and when I read about Snowden I thought I had to hurry up and get that manuscript polished before it seemed like old hat. CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE WINTER SOLDIER has a version of it too. And Snowden points out that people often joke about the government reading their emails, or about getting put on a list for something they say or write. That our half-acceptance of it as a fact of life is tragic.

I’ve only heard politicians express this before, but I’m sure there are also private citizens who think Snowden is a traitor. That these programs are designed to protect us from terrorism, and it’s wrong to expose them to our enemies. In the movie we see President Obama express something like this at a press conference, saying that all this stuff was already under review anyway with an eye toward maintaining a balance between security and personal freedom. But that’s an uncharacteristically full-of-shit comment from Obama. He’s basically saying you know what, we’re looking into whether or not it’s bad for the government to illegally monitor you and everyone you know just in case and for companies to illegally give up information on  you, and if it is then we’ll take care of it and if it’s not we’ll keep doing it and either way don’t worry your pretty little head about it. This goes against his usual philosophy that we have the right to make intelligent decisions based on good information.

Such a massive intrusion at least deserves a public debate. Is it worth taking away that much freedom in order to protect us? That really is a question to me, it’s not necessarily cut and dry. Because most of me hates the surveillance state we live in, the proliferation of cameras everywhere, in buildings, in traffic lights, in everybody’s hands. But another part of me was pretty damn happy they could pore over all that shit to identify and track those two assholes that set bombs off at the Boston Marathon. There’s an argument to be made for this stuff. But let’s have that argument.

We really have to consider whether the possibility of using this tool to catch bad guys is worth the risk of its potential for abuse. If you don’t think the government currently goes after innocent people for their politics, are you really sure it will stay that way under all future administrations? What would Nixon have done to the people on his enemies list if he’d had this kind of access to their lives? How far do you think Martin Luther King would’ve gotten if they had this shit to smear him with? Not far, I bet.

I think domestic spying is a hugely important issue that we all need to pay more attention to. But what’s amazing about CITIZENFOUR is that it would still be an interesting movie without that. This is a historical document. It’s like if some Maysles Brothers types had been invited to follow Deep Throat around when he first contacted Woodward and Bernstein. And it’s fascinating just as a procedural. We get to see step-by-step how they go about revealing this information to the world, what their strategy is, what they’re concerned about as their plan unfolds. I’ve never seen a movie like that before.

I’ll be recommending this to everybody I can. In fact, I gotta go stand near my phone and talk it up to the NSA guys, in case they’re not already getting this as I write it.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, December 8th, 2014 at 1:26 pm and is filed under Documentary, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “Citizenfour”

  1. This sounds really interesting. I didn’t even know that it existed. Got to see where I could find it online.

  2. The Original Paul

    December 8th, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Man, I’d like to see this one, but aside from the whole issue of finding somewhere where it’s actually shown, it honestly would probably depress me too much. I wish this issue WOULD get debated. Hell, I wish people would march in the streets to end Government surveillance of innocent citizens. But no… poll tax and speed cameras get protests, not issues like this. The sad truth is that unless people see an immediate negative effect from this stuff, they generally don’t seem to care enough to actually try and do anything about it, even if they disagree with it.

    “That’s an uncharacteristically full-of-shit comment from Obama.”

    Uncharacteristically? I don’t know too much about the political situation over there, Vern, but to us cynical non-Americans (at least this cynical non-American here) it looks as though Obama has been vociferously expanding all of these intrusive surveillance programs while paying constant lip-service to the idea of “personal privacy” even as he’s shredding it. Didn’t he ignore his own privacy and civil liberties advisors earlier this year when they recommended the NSA surveillance program be disbanded? At least that’s how I remember it being reported over here.

    Found a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy_and_Civil_Liberties_Oversight_Board

  3. It’s funny what you said about turning into bitchy teenagers worrying about cliques and not wanting to look like you’re siding with an unappealing group because just recently there was this thing that happened with my mom. I mentioned that I had read the book about the Susan Powell/Josh Powell story. For those that don’t know, she was a woman who went missing and everyone suspected her husband of killing her. He was hounded by the media, her family and the authorities, but she never turned up and they couldn’t find any evidence he killed her. He ended up killing himself and his sons. When I told my mom I read the book she said that she didn’t like Susan’s father because of how he forced himself in the spotlight of the media. I couldn’t believe it and ended up yelling at my poor mom out of total shock, “He was trying to find his daughter! Are you telling me if I went missing, you wouldn’t do everything you could to find me because you wouldn’t want total strangers to think you were pushing yourself into the spotlight?” Human psychology is a crazy thing.

  4. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I just can’t see how the Government wont inevitably wind up spying on us digitally, I mean the technology will always be there and terrorism will always be there, how can you stop one thing from trying to prevent the other?

    And on top of that, the Cold War is starting again, who knows what kind of cloak and dagger shit America will get up to because of that.

  5. There is a lot of scary stuff happening in America these days though, for fun I like to imagine what someone zapped to the future from about 20 years ago or so would think of the present day, I think they would probably find it pretty bleak.

  6. Griff I wouldn’t be surprised if they already are. I mean the one giant leap in technology in terms of the general population is smart phones and other mobile devices with built-in cameras and microphones.

    To think that the NSA or CIA and others of that ilk wouldn’t be using it against certain regular citizens at any point will be naive IMO. I believe most of us have been desensitized and in turn inspired to give up a lot of her privacy rights for a reason here in the US.

    In many ways we’ve been conditioned to not give a fuck about our rights anymore and it’s been the saddest thing to see. Yet at the same time as these things like the current protests and stuff show that some of us still give a damn about living in the more just world.

    I love my country man I truly honestly do. but it’s because of my right as a concerned citizen that I have to say our priorities are seriously fucked up and it’s going to take decades upon decades affection for us to understand that.

  7. *meant to type of reflection and not affection. Ironically I used Google Voice on my mobile to transcribe that last post. Cuz I ain’t afraid of no ghost. Truth must always be said, word to Superman.

  8. Does this documentary get into any of the stuff that happened when Julian Assange got involved? I always thought it was interesting that Greenwald / Snowden always talked about wanting to focus the story on the leaks and not the person, but it seemed like Wikileaks made a very public spectacle out of Snowden’s search for asylum, etc. Not just an accidental but very deliberate reframing of the story around Edward Snowden the person. In general I think openly associating with Assange (and later and worse, Kim Dotcom) was probably the single biggest mistake these guys made.

    Also I think your comments at the end of this review are interesting because (and maybe the documentary goes into this but) it’s kind of the same idea that Snowden has expressed himself:


    He’s pretty inconsistent on this point (at times he’ll say that he fully and unequivocally supports the “working man” at the NSA, but later he’ll excoriate them and say they’re the worst violators of personal privacy, sharing intimate photos they steal from cell phones and etc.) but I think it’s interesting that he shares the same general idea that real problem is that these issues never had the chance to be openly debated in a public forum, that all of the decisions were made behind closed doors by the people who are the most likely to abuse these programs.

  9. I think if you transport somebody from1994 into today they will be fucking shell shocked by the end of it. It was just such an optimistic and progressive point in time that today’s cynicism and narcissism would just create a feeling of sheer disappointment within them.

    At the same time it is arguable that today’s generation is really fucked up because Generation X was too optimistic and in turn spoiled a lot of the Millennials into really thinking that they’re more important than they actually are.

    It created a lot of Ego maniacs and sociopaths. It made a lot of people think that they are the stars of their own personal movie and the reality of life is that it doesn’t work that way. We are all just another cog in the wheel. In reality we are pretty irrelevant individually. It is collectively as a race of people that we are strong.

    So you might as well just live life enjoy it and help others as much as you can while it’s still here. I think the previous generation created too many dreamers and not enough doers. In turn it has led to this disharmony In the balance of things. I say this because I myself was guilty of being too much of a dreamer at one point.

    Then I saw how much of a worthless illusion it all really is. It’s just more set up to create selfishness within our individual selves. Life is just about living and learning and surviving and elevating each other as one nation.

    To make the ride more spiritually fruitful while we are here in the material plane together with what we’ve gotten from that knowledge those experiences brought to us all individually.

    That once used to be a national philosophy here in America. it was the principle of both the natives and the people who stole this country founded.Nowadays do most of us have our head so far up our own asses we forgot what the American dream was really all about.

  10. “It made a lot of people think that they are the stars of their own personal movie and the reality of life is that it doesn’t work that way. We are all just another cog in the wheel.”

    I would have completely agreed with you on this, but I’m not so sure anymore. Not too long ago a friend how works in corporate HR was telling me about how people entering the workforce who come from the generation where they all got trophies for just participating (specific example for how they were generally raised) are having a major shock when they aren’t validated for every fucking little thing they do. I was thinking, “Yep, welcome to the real world, sucker.” But then I was surprised to find out that these corporations are the ones actually changing to accommodate them because without the cogs the wheel doesn’t run. Then to complete the mind blowing I found out that it’s not just corporations, but even the military is softening their approach to new recruits.

  11. I would not buy stock in that company. The “participation trophy effect” is straight bullshit. Kids already recognize participation trophies as worthless by the time they’re 4 or 5 years old. Just dumb uninformed pop psychology invented by bored republicans who want something to be furious about.

  12. Helluva convincing review, so I reckon I’ll see this when I can. Don’t know where precisely I fall on all these surveillance vs. liberty vs. privacy vs. antiterror vs. investigative journalism vs. necessary secrecy issues, since I always feel like, despite my above-average handle of telco/online security and all that, I only have about 4% of the facts required to be any kind of expert, real or armchair variety, in this field, but I do tend to regard Snowden primarily as a criminal. “Traitor” isn’t right, but ideally he should face the American judicial-legal music if he wants to earn credibility for himself and his cause in my view.

    Metadata is fundamentally a horrible concept, and the actual practice of gathering metadata, via government meddling or corporate collecting or online volunteering or any combo of these methods, is even worse; it’s the kind of thing that makes one question how we arrived at this point as a species, a society, and yet, yeah, metadata is helpful to combat crime, terrorism, etc.. The fuck you gonna do?

    Well, here I’ll throw out a few practical tips. We might not understand what the nerds at the NSA or at Amazon are doing, exactly, but we can take countermeasures for basic peace of mind:

    -If you have a kid, don’t sign him/her up for social media.

    There’s nothing more pernicious yet self-inflicted out of a misguided sense of love & sharing than setting up your month-old baby with a Facebook account with its full name and a bunch of tagged photos and “Likes.” Little guy is going to start getting promotional offers in the mail from Capitol One before he starts kindergarten. Let her be. Don’t commence a paper trail of embarrassing photos and easy identity fraud before your precious little one even knows how to hold a fork, jeezus.

    -Don’t give Facebook your info. Or any website if possible.

    Why does Zuckerberg and his advertising partners need to know you’re the 4Square mayor of the Chik-fil-a in downtown Gary, Indiana? Turn off apps. Turn off location-sharing. Change the setting to “Only confirmed friends can see my wall posts.” All that shit. Don’t post your birthday. Don’t post hometown. Don’t post how you’re going on vacation out of town for 7 days. You deserve to have your house broken into and all your great-grandmother’s heirloom sapphires & gold-plated necklaces stolen if you do some stupid shit like that.

    -Turn off cookies.

    Opt out of cookies, third party tracking, browser history tracking, geolocation. All that. Clear your history.

    -Put a piece of masking tape over your laptop’s webcam lens.


    Any little step we can take toward a form of Ron Swansonism is a good idea.

  13. Vern, one thing that’s a really good bookend to this is FRONTLINE’s two part “United States of Secret” which covers how this whole system was set-up to begin with and how many of the people who helped get it going where harassed and prosecuted when they raised concerns about it’s scope.

    It puts some very human faces on the”evil government” reading your e-mail, because somebody has to actually do that, and it turns out many of them didn’t want to and tried very hard to get us to stop.


  14. > Metadata is fundamentally a horrible concept, and the actual practice of gathering metadata, via government meddling or corporate collecting or online volunteering or any combo of these methods, is even worse; it’s the kind of thing that makes one question how we arrived at this point as a species, a society, and yet, yeah, metadata is helpful to combat crime, terrorism, etc.. The fuck you gonna do?

    Not to get nitpicky but “metadata” isn’t a specific thing. It just means “data about data”. It’s not really fundamentally a horrible concept or fundamentally anything at all, it’s all context-dependent.

    If they say they only store email metadata and not email data, what they mean is they know who sent an email, who they sent it to, what nodes it jumped through across the internet, whether you tried to hide your tracks, etc. But they don’t store the actual text of the email.

    If they say they only store phone call metadata, it means they know who made a call, who it went to, what cell towers it hit. But they don’t have the actual conversation.

    A lot of times it’s a straight-up lie (contents of at least some emails and phone calls are definitely stored) and a lot of times it’s doublespeak (use technical jargon to obfuscate the fact that identifying information is still stored) but “metadata” itself isn’t inherently dangerous, it always depends on the specific thing in question.

    Sorry, I know this I’m parsing more than I’m probably contributing to the conversation, and I’m sure everybody on here already knows all this, but it seems like it’s not real well-known in general what “metadata” means and what is being talked about when it comes up.

  15. Tugboat – Assange is seen in one part, but since the director was mostly out of contact with Snowden during that period it’s left mysterious in the movie.

  16. “But I quickly forgave that as the movie began to build an eerie atmosphere with its droning feedback sounds, God’s-eye-view shots of cities, clandestine footage of secret data interception bases and cryptic emails glowing on her monitor.”

    I loved how the movie started this way, got a real palpable sense of doom and despair and tension from the way it was presented.

    I also feel like the way they didn’t say it was Edward Snowden or mention his name at all until the moment the source is revealed to them with a kind of smash cut to Snowden in the chair that it was like they were trying to make this kind of a twist, like “oh shit, it’s that Snowden guy!” but then they used his face on the poster and sold it as that Snowden documentary, so the reveal was undercut. But still…pretty cool.

  17. Yeah I guess I meant “metadata collection” or “metadata spying” in the specific context of the mission of the NSA and hackers, if that clarifies.

    This nitpick dispute, by the way, substantiates the problem I described about only knowing a small fraction of the relevant facts before taking a firm stand on any side of the issue.

    I’m aware the term metadata can be applied in a more innocuous, overarching manner, but it still represents a system of spying — they can pinpoint your location & identity based on that “data about data.” Even without entering personal info or logging on to any online outlets that request personal info, there are computer programs that can determine your name & location with better than 90% accuracy based on merely learning 4 or 5 websites you visit. Even if they were looking at a protected or scrambled IP address, the NSA can simply figure out you were on, say, outlawverndotcom and then clicked over to _________blog and then _________dotorg and they’ll easily be able to figure out who you are because the central crossover portion of that online traffic’s Venn diagram is pretty fucking small. Add in some pinging data or one click from a link within a personal e-mail message and they’ll be 99.999% certain who you are and where you are. And by “who you are,” I mean they give you a random alphanumeric user ID (for theoretical future tracking purposes, in case you one day attempt to skype with the leader of ISIS or start uploading beheading videos to YouTube or something), not, like, pull up your driver’s license. Well, that’s what they say anyway; I’ll believe it as far as I can throw it.

    (This used to be part of my job, making systems that do this kind of shit comply with each other in different languages.
    My god, how much further has the tech advanced the last couple years?)
    {*adjusts tin foil hat*}

    I stand by the assertion that, as it’s deployed today, it’s an awful, and unAmerican, practice.
    (except for the pesky, inconvenient fact that Americans are doing it (and they’re being paid American taxpayer dollars to do so))

  18. “…uncharacteristically…” heh, heh, heh.

  19. Well what I mean is that I think most of the time it’s intentional doublespeak, because, y’know, the Dewey Decimal System is “metadata collection”. Phone books are “metadata collection”. It doesn’t mean anything at all, really – even the most technically savvy person can’t just hear the phrase “metadata collection” and know what’s being discussed – I have the sense that some PR guy or whatever (now this is where I am really out of my element…) just figured that a vague, technical- but innocuous-sounding term would kinda dissuade people from looking deeper at what is actually being collected.

    But like I said, I’m really parsing here, I just get excited when something that’s sorta relevant to what I study / do for a living comes up in the comments on this site.

  20. That was for you, Rogue4.

  21. Just for the record, Edward Snowden is an almost exact identical image of me. My doppelganger ( or am I HIS doppelganger…hmm?)

  22. …Ideally he should face the American judicial-legal music if he wants to earn credibility for himself and his cause in my view.

    Man, I just never understood this viewpoint. The dude had to abandon everything he had and knew… you want him crucified now as well? I mean, I suppose I could understand someone who has done more than Snowden saying this, if they really believed it, but who here has?

    Besides, was the release of the Pentagon Papers any less important because Daniel Ellsburg didn’t spend any time in a federal penitentiary?

  23. Crushinator Jones

    December 9th, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Mouth, I agree with you accept for one issue: there is no “judicial-legal music” in this country, or if there is the tune is a variant on “Folsom Prison Blues”. If he were caught, he would be placed in solitary for years on end, tortured – exactly as Manning was – while the prosecutor dragged his/her feet to inflict maximum pain, tried by a military tribunal to ensure guilt, or maybe even not tried at all and simply locked up in a cage in Cuba because he’s a “terrorist”/”enemy combatant”.

    You can read an article by Daniel Ellsburg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers and was arrested, on why he shouldn’t “face the music”, right here:


  24. “…Ideally he should face the American judicial-legal music if he wants to earn credibility for himself and his cause in my view.”

    He’s being charged under the espionage act, meaning that the reason for the disclosure is irrelevant and is not allowable as a defense. In other words, being a whistle-blower is not a defense, the only relevant fact is whether or not it can be proved that you produced the leak. Since Snowden admits that he did, if you say he should have “faced the judicial-legal music” you’re basically saying that if he wanted credibility he should have willingly gone to jail for the rest of his life. That would be the only possible outcome. He would not be allowed to make his case for why he thinks he did the right thing, it would be ruled immaterial and his conviction would be an iron-clad certainty. Ask Chelsea Manning how that turned out.

    Basically, if you scoff at Snowden because he got away, your standards for whistle-blowers are essentially that they’re lacking credibility unless they literally sacrifice their entire life. By those standards, you’re not going to get very many whistle-blowers. I might be more inclined to agree with you if he’d been charged with something that he could have mounted a reasonable defense to, but the charge made it clear that they were not in the least bit interested in giving him a chance to make his case.

  25. I can see Mouth’s side. Right now, out there in Russia, he’s a distraction. Nobody cares about the cause because they’re focused on him. But there’s no guarantee that attention will shift to the issues if he turns himself in. In fact, it would probably be the opposite. The party line would be “Justice is served!” and he’d be tossed down the oubliette, never to be heard of again. While he’s still out there, at least he (and thus the issues he raises) are still a topic of conversation.

    And it is asking a lot of a guy to be a martyr just because the American people are so easily distracted.

  26. If I may expand on the notion of “ideally,” what that means is, there’d be an open trial. Stuff would be put on the record for all to hear/read/consider, and some form of legal deal would be made between DoJ/Obama/NSA and Snowden. He wouldn’t be Chelsea Manninged into lockup forever. Hell, his punishment could be taking a job as an advisor to our security apparatus, patrolling Fort Meade telling people what not to do with their top secret info, like how banks hire former safe-crackers, or Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

    In my opinion, this would approach the best possible way to unfuck the situation and help the American public get a positive result from the leaks and the legislative changes that result from all this new knowledge.

    Running off and making movies about himself and helping Vladimir Putin and the Chinese governments embarrass the US… eh, that’s not what I consider ideal.

  27. But I see you guys’ side, too. It’s rational. Not saying I’m right and you’re wrong.

    And I see why Snowden & Greenwald have done what they’ve done. We’ll never have all the facts or understand all the motivations, but at least we’re yelling at the right buildings when it comes to being outraged at our own government (and the website companies, and our telephone service providers, and…) for spying on us.

  28. “If I may expand on the notion of “ideally,” what that means is, there’d be an open trial.”

    Yeah, I’m 100% with you on that. In fact, the approach that the administration has taken to these revelations is one of the most disheartening thing about the whole episode. The kangaroo court that was Manning’s trial (complete with jaw-dropping irregularities like a secret mute button!?) and using the nearly 100-year-old espionage act to guarantee that leakers would not be able to make a case for themselves demonstrate a shocking disinterest in due process and a complete contempt for the idea that the government may really have been in the wrong. Whatever Manning and Snowden did, regardless of whether or not they’re nice guys or did the right thing, “espionage” is clearly NOT what they were engaged in, and using it as a convenient tool to ensure their guilt is pretty much tipping the administration’s hand that it was only interested in serving its own interests, rather than finding some measure of genuine justice.

  29. Your the best, friendo. Wish I hadn’t slept on Birdman now.

  30. Chelsea Manning’s case is different for a number of reasons (she was in the US military and she took much less care in curating / censoring the information released).

    Also, Snowden is not facing life in prison: he’s facing three charges, two of which fall under the espionage act, carry a maximum sentence of 10 years each for a total 30 years possible (though he’d be up for parole before that, as Manning will be, and even if he was never paroled he’d almost assuredly be pardoned eventually).

    Personally I agree with Mouth that he should face trial, because he’d have the opportunity to appeal his case and would at least have the opportunity to challenge the existing laws in court. As it is, the huge problem that government whistleblowers have very limited legal protection still exists and won’t be challenged in court (and nobody right now has the balls to push through updated legislation).

    Actually though, what I honestly think would happen is that the case would get thrown out on procedural grounds similarly to Ellsburg’s and wouldn’t even make it that far. I know people are skeptical but I have a hard time believing that he’d actually ultimately be convicted and / or serve significant jail time.

  31. “Journalist” Glenn Greenwald. Yeah, he’s not exactly the most credible of sources.

  32. That’s okay, Snowden is the source. You can hear it from him in this movie without the filter of that not credible source you don’t trust. He’s just in the room taking notes.

  33. The Original Paul

    December 10th, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Oh, was the “uncharacteristically” statement sarcasm? Sorry, I didn’t pick up on it.

    My impression has been for a while that Obama is a lot more unpopular overseas than he is in the USA because his most unpopular decisions have to do with foreign policy, whereas he’s done some good stuff on the domestic front in terms of the economy, healthcare, etc. I’ve never been a fan of his but its the spying shit and foreign policy decisions that have really turned me off him. That, of course, is entirely anecdotal and could be completely wrong – it’s my impression based on my “circle”, which is hardly representative.

  34. Obama has been a very successful president in a lot of ways, Paul. He got shit done I never thought he’d accomplish in a million years. Yeah, he’s also made a lot of compromises and made a lot of choices I disagree with, but that’s the job. It’s not a system that’s set up to allow good things to happen. Two steps forward, one step back. But I was never one of those guys who thought this one magical negro (technical term, please do not ban) could come in and fix everything (or even anything), so I figure any progress is good. (This is the benefit of being a pessimist.) The problem is that we have a shitty, sensationalist, lying-ass-motherfucker of a media, and the story a big chunk of it likes pushing is that Obama is a fuckup who’s constantly on the verge of being impeached because the American people have spoken and they’re fed up, etc. Fact is, his popularity has stayed pretty consistent. The same people who liked him before still like him, and the people who always hated him never won’t. I wish he’d stop bombing the fuck out of everybody and spying on his own people, but it’s a shitty system and he’s part of it. Nobody gets out of that job with his hands clean.

  35. I mean, I have healthcare for the first time this century because of Obama. No other president has ever made such a huge difference in my life, so I’m still on his side.

  36. There have been a lot of things that I seen happen politically in the past few years that I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime. Not just the health care thing which in many ways was indeed a godsend for many people.

    But also the fact that I could go to certain states now and legally smoke marijuana or attend a gay wedding. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. That’s the type of progress I only dreamed about as a kid.

    Honestly Obama hasn’t been perfect but no president has. However seeing long overdue Wall Street reforms, student loan reforms (which greatly helped me out BTW), investment in technologies that could actually make a difference,the recapitalizing of the banks, ending a useless war, killing our real enemy, reemphasizing just human rights laws, restructuring the US auto industry, making sure to give our veterans the support they deserve when they come back home etc. Is also hella nice. the guy has done more good than bad and I applaud him for that fact and not because we share the same complexion like a lot of the media would have you believe.

  37. Don’t forget ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I did not expect that.

  38. Yeah that too as well as redefining pay equality laws. That was pretty unprecedented and very major.

  39. Broddie my man, I guess you didn’t hear about the VA scandal that broke earlier this year (though amidst the alphabet soup of scandals, NSA, IRS, AP, HHS I can appreciate it’s hard to keep up) in which CNN reported at least 40 vets died awaiting care at Phoenix Veteran’s Affairs facilites. Subsequent investigation revealed wait issues and book cooking with regard to wait lists to be systemic throughout the Veteran’s Health Administration. Gitmo is still open, and we’re now headed back to the mid-east to fight some more of that war the Virtual President “ended” by announcing a pull out date to an on-the-ropes Al qaeda that then got a second wind and became ISIS. The continued perpetuation of the wage-gap myth is a bit embarassing at this point, and I’m not sure restructuring the auto industry is any of the government’s business, but I guess legally rollin a dubie is a fair trade-off.

  40. Crushinator Jones

    December 11th, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    I’m glad with some of the things that Obama has presided over, for sure. And I know Vern is in the tank for him and I respect that. Personally I feel the bad outweighs the good. Things I am not happy with: drone bombing innocent people and giving bipartisan cover to an imperial, extreme philosophy started by George W. Bush, not putting a single banker in jail, giving away the public option for Obamacare before negotiations even started and instead making healthcare reform a tax-subsidized give-away to private insurers, Gitmo still being open, the feds under the auspice of his AG still have the discretion to prosecute drug offenses and still do it, his attempt to “reform” social security by gutting it, his presiding over a record number of deportations, his support of the relatively toothless Dodd-Frank financial reform bill (which as of today Dec 11 2014 he’s currently trying to gut with the help of Republicans, and you can read about that right here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/spending-bill-teeters-amid-democratic-discontent/2014/12/11/af238ace-810d-11e4-b936-f3afab0155a7_story.html), Osama Bin Laden’s execution when we feasibly could have put him on trial, and of course failing to do anything about the literal war crimes that the previous administration perpetrated with “let’s look forward, not backwards” (LOL this gets me every time).

    I’ve felt that Obama is a fairly low-end mediocre president with no morals at a time when the country needs a great one with strong morals. This country is still in the grip of the financial industry, a segment of the economy that now does very little beyond rent-seeking (in the economic term, please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent-seeking if you’re unfamiliar with this) and grows bigger every year (http://tcf.org/blog/detail/graph-how-the-financial-sector-consumed-americas-economic-growth). And guess what? It’s going to stay that way with milquetoast tools of the financial industry like Obama and Hillary Clinton keeping their hands on the reigns of power. The financial industry controls Washington, and they aren’t going to stop until they skim from every dollar in this country, stick the public with all of their losses and get to keep all of their gains. What this translates to is some social rights in exchange for your economic security and freedom. Those big money boys will be happy to let you smoke weed and marry your gay spouse as as they can keep the money flowing into their pockets (and out of yours). You’ll live in a rented apartment and have lifelong debt up to your eyeballs in a police state, but you can toke a few from the local dispensary and leave your meager possessions to your same-sex partner. I personally feel that’s a bad trade, but I’m not gay and I don’t indulge in drugs anymore so I can’t presume to tell anyone else if it’s worth it.

  41. What I wouldn’t give for Biden to have been as influential & powerful in this administration as Cheney was in the previous administration.

    (Ideally — oh there’s that word again — Biden would be POTUS the last 6 years. Primary voters are dumb.)

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