Review by Willard Manus

Laura Poitras’ new documentary, CITIZENFOUR, is a brave and important expose of the surreptitious and illegal practices of the National Security Agency (NSA). As revealed by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden and the journalist Glenn Greenwald, the NSA with the complicity of such corporations as Verizon, A T & T and Yahoo has been spying not just on suspected criminals or terrorists but ordinary American citizens for the past decade. The massive cybernetic surveillance includes not just phone calls but e-mails, credit-card and banking transactions. In other words, Big Brother has been watching everything we do, just as George Orwell predicted in “1984.”
The government’s defense is that this being done in the name of national security: to keep another 9/11 from happening. Legal surveillance of our enemies--that is, keeping track of specific targets with oversight from a court of law-- is certainly a necessity today, but as CITIZENFOUR shows so convincingly the NSA and its allies (other foreign intelligence agencies) have gone way overboard in their quest for information.

CITIZENFOUR enfolds in spy-thriller fashion. Poitras, a much-honored documentarian who had been working for two years on a film about surveillance, was contacted by ex-NSA security analyst Edward Snowden via coded e-mail. When she became convinced that he was telling the truth about the NSA’s illegal activities, she contacted a colleague, the Brazil-based “Guardian” investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, and they traveled to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden. Their first interview took place in a hotel room, at which time he gave them evidence of NSA’s indiscriminate and massive invasions of privacy.
Poitras then began filming Snowden, giving him ample time to lay out his case and also to explain why he became a whistle-blower On camera the youthful Snowden comes across as a hyper-rational computer geek, but one who was sincere in his belief that the NSA’s surveillance program was a threat to democratic principles. He also confessed to knowing there would be a big price to pay for his public actions.“I am more willing to risk imprisonment or any other negative outcome personally than I am willing to risk the curtailment of my intellectual freedom and that of those around me, whom I care for equally as I do for myself,” he said.
These are the words of a true patriot, a believer in democracy, freedom of speech and individual rights.
Some of the other participants in CITIZENFOUR include William Binney, a crypto-mathematician who worked for thirty years at the NSA and quit his job after having conscience qualms about the excesses of the surveillance program, and Jacob Applebaum, an American-born, Berlin-based journalist and WikiLeaks “hacktivist” who has reported for many years on American and German intelligence agencies.

Greenwald (joined at times by his “Guardian” colleague, Ewen Macaskill) is given considerable screen time in CITIZENFOUR. Brash, smart and articulate, he used Snowden’s information to write a series of articles about the NSA’s data-collection program. The response made him and Snowden media stars, but it also put them --and Laura Poitras as well-- in the crosshairs of the NSA and other intelligence agencies around the world. Since then, these muck-rakers have been criticized, harassed and (in Poitras’ case) interrogated countless times by various authorities. Thanks to the support of his newspaper, though, Greenwald is still writing about privacy and security issues. As for Snowden, he has been obliged to seek temporary political asylum in Russia.
CITIZENFOUR deals with the most important theme of our time-- man against state power. For this reason alone, every concerned citizen in the USA should make sure to see it.