Sheesh, the people they publish in academic journals these days. Like yours truly, for instance!
Yes, it’s true. The high-faluters who run the American Journal of Economics and Sociology have included me in a special issue dedicated to the CIA and Hollywood. How appropriate, too, given that I am the world’s leading expert on the film career of Edward Snowden, the Adrienne Barbeau of cliche-riddled, CIA-anointed spy movies and real-time facsimiles.
Finally, someone has given Snowden his due and that someone is me! No mere whistleblower, he, I argue, but rather, a movie star in the tradition of Gene Hackman and Will Smith, if you put aside the amateurishness of his performance and his utter lack of a single interesting quality.
More specifically, I situate the Snowden Affair in relation to Enemy of the State, the 1998 Tony Scott NSA thriller, which, like Snowden, had a great deal of assistance from the CIA and which disclosed a strikingly similar message: There’s no place to hide. You can’t do shit about it. Spying is nonetheless necessary and good. On the way there I say unkind but much deserved things about this over-exposed, dishonest mediocrity; his cheesy, vulgar publicists; his unutterably stupid fans; and the unbearably shitty films Laura Poitras and Oliver Stone have made on his and the security state’s behalf. I also go 11,000 words without saying fuck even once.
In light of Greenwald’s candid placement of the Snowden Affair in the entertainment world, it’s fitting that the whistleblower anointed a filmmaker, Laura Poitras, to be among the few custodians of his leaks. In addition to practically assuring at least one feature film about him would be made, Poitras offered a brand built on her own run-ins with the security state. A year and two months before Greenwald met Snowden in Hong Kong, he wrote a lengthy article about Poitras’s allegedly numerous detainments at airports by Homeland Security officials, ostensibly because of films she had made about the War on Terror. Because of this harassment, Poitras is reportedly a “digital exile” in Berlin, returning to the United States only when the extremely necessary work of collecting Pulitzers and Oscars needs doing (Cadwalladr 2014).
As dissident artists hounded by state authorities go, Poitras seems unusually well-connected to the people and institutions that could make a crucial phone call on her behalf. Her parents are multimillionaires who, in 2007, donated $20 million to MIT (Jennings 2007). She is a recipient of MacArthur Foundation and Ford Foundation grants. Her patrons include Pierre Omidyar—who funds The Intercept, an online newsmagazine Poitras co-cofounded with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill—and Jeffrey Skoll, whose Participant Media produced Citizenfour. Omidyar and Skoll seem particularly odd partners in fighting state power, given that they both have very close relationships with USAID (2012a, 2012b, 2014), which for decades has been linked to the CIA as a front for covert operations (Ames 2014a). The Omidyar Network has been linked to both the Maidan uprising in Ukraine and the ascent of ultra-nationalist Narendra Modi in India (Ames 2014b, 2014c). Skoll’s Participant Media produced Charlie Wilson’s War, a film that enjoyed official assistance from the CIA (Alford and Graham 2008). Spy Culture’s Tom Secker placed it among “the most overt and obvious propaganda efforts” he had ever studied (Redmond and Secker 2015).
If Poitras’s ultra-connected patrons wanted a film in which Snowden’s secrets and the agency he stole them from hardly feature at all, then they got their money’s worth…
I regret that reading me this time around isn’t free, but surely the resourcefully cheap among you can get around that. I’ve already been paid, so it ain’t shit to me. Many thanks to Porkins Policy Radio‘s Pearce Redmond and Spy Culture‘s Tom Secker, who invited me to contribute and who have also written excellent pieces for the issue.