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September 24

Laura Poitras - Modern hero

By Miista Blogs
Who is not partial to a tale of espionage and high treason? These days real life is getting all Hamlet on us. Miista's Julis Jarvis brings you the lowdown on something rotten - happening from Denmark to London to Washington and beyond - that effects all of us. We can’t wait for the latest Homeland series set to be aired in the UK in Autumn. According to Homeland's makers, this series is darker than ever; set in the aftermath of the CIA headquarters bombing, where the lines are blurred between friend and foe and the CIA is having to defend its very existence. The appetite for the series summed up by the fact that the first episode, due to air in the States at the end of September, was leaked online and downloaded over 100, 000 times in 24 hours. You need however not fret that you will miss all the intrigue if you were to miss Homeland for some reason. These days, truth is often stranger than fiction. Leaks. We’ve had Wikileaks and Julian Assange who’s currently residing in the Ecuadorian Embassy in West London, and finding some unusual ways to pass the time. In August this year, 25 year-old Bradley Manning, who now goes by the name of Chelsea* was sentenced to 35 years for the leak of the largest cache of classified documents in U.S. history. And most recently, Edward Snowden, 29, currently enjoying the hospitality of Russia and wanted by the States for leaking top-secret NSA (National Security Agency) documents about US surveillance on phone and internet communications to filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Laura Poitras Not heard of Laura Poitras? Well that’s the way she likes it. Although, by now you may well have seen the interview she filmed with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room, shortly before he disappeared to Russia. In Peter Maas’s extensive New York Times Magazine article, she’s described by Glen Greenwald, “as the Keyser Soze of the story, because she’s at once completely invisible and yet ubiquitous,”...referring to the character in “The Usual Suspects” played by Kevin Spacey, a mastermind masquerading as a nobody. “She’s been at the center of all of this, and yet no one knows anything about her.” Edward SnowdenThe Snowden interview Laura Poitras was raised in a well-to-do family outside Boston. In the late 1980’s Laura moved to San Francisco to work as a professional chef and at this time she also took up film classes in San Francisco Art Institute where she studied under the experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr. In 1992, she moved to New York to pursue a career in film. For the last 10 years she has focused on making a trilogy of films based around America post 9/11. My Country, My Country followed Doctor Riyadh and his family’s experiences in a post war Iraq whilst The Oath is the story of Guantánamo prisoner Salim Hamdan and his brother-in-law back in Yemen. The final part of the trilogy, a documentary on surveillance, has been in production since 2011 - long before Snowden revelations - but to which Edward Snowden’s are now central. It also makes Laura, in masterminding the documents arrival into the publice eye, a pivotal character in her own documentary. Laura maybe a stranger to the limelight but she’s certainly not to the US Government, who have her marked for "SSSS" – Secondary Security Screening Selection. Between 2006 and April 2012 she has been subjected to well over 40 interrogations upon entry and exit to the States and other countries. She has had her personal belongings rifled through, computers, phones and notebooks confiscated with no explanation. Poitras reached breaking point when in 2012 she was barred from taking notes under interrogation, as she might use her pen as a weapon - she asked for crayons. They said no. Finding ways to protect against survelliance is just one of the skills Laura Poitras has developed and refined over the course of her work. ‘Big Brother’ is watching, listening and reading your emails. Laura’s own digital security was already in place; from limiting calls on her cellphone to masking and encryption software for web and email by the time Edward Snowden contacted her. In fact, it was the reason he contacted her. He had first gone to Greenwald himself, who did not take his requests for security seriously. It’s chilling to think that our every move is being watched, that our cellphone calls can be remotely listened to even when the phones turned off and it’s all usable data - logged and stored. We should celebrate the likes of Laura Poitras, who sacrifices her own privacy and safety everyday to continue to make documentaries that reveal what what our own democratically-elected governments want to keep hidden from us. * On August 22, 2013, the day after sentencing, Manning's attorney issued a press release to the Today show announcing that she identifies as female, and asking that the media refer to her by her new name.
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