In June 2013, Edward Snowden, an IT subcontractor working for the American NSA signals intelligence agency, travelled to Hong Kong to leak thousands of classified US documents to a group of journalists. The material revealed secret data collection programmes by the NSA. When Snowden appeared in a twelve-minute Television interview alleging massive surveillance by the US government, his claims caused world-wide protests and an international debate on internet freedom. To avoid extradition to the US, Snowden continued his journey and ended up in Russia. He still lives in Moscow, from where he addresses international conferences via video link.
Five years later, this film assesses Snowden’s revelations in Hong Kong. To what degree did the material leaked by Snowden reveal mass surveillance by the NSA? What impact did his revelations have on cyber security? And why does he still live in Moscow today?
The US government claims that Snowden not only took documents on domestic data collection but also many files relating to foreign intelligence. It claims that as many as 1.5 million classified files were stolen. Where did they end up? Was Snowden acting alone? What damage did he do to Western security? Is Snowden a whistleblower, or a spy?
The film looks at Snowden’s life from his teenage years in Maryland until his mission to Hong Kong and Moscow. After dropping out of a military training course, Snowden managed to get a job with the CIA, thanks to his IT skills, and was sent to a US mission in Geneva. He had a run-in with his bosses and left the CIA under a cloud, but managed to get jobs as IT subcontractor to the NSA in Japan and Hawaii. Disagreeing with some of the NSA’s data collection programmes, he decided to steal and then leak a huge amount of classified material to the press.
Many questions remain. Was Snowden acting alone? Why did he take so much material that was unrelated to domestic surveillance? The film includes interviews with people from all sides of the debate, including a journalist who received documents from Snowden in 2013, as well as a senior FBI official in charge of an investigation into the case. It also features clips from Snowden’s famous interview in June 2013. Other interviews include journalists, experts, academics and officials as well as two of Snowden’s former work colleagues in Hawaii.