Laura Poitras Print Interview 8-18-15

Source: ‘Ring the Alarm: Laura Poitras Discusses Suing the US Government’ by Marlow Stern for The Daily Beast

The Oscar-winning director of Citizenfour opens up about NSA spying, Chelsea Manning, Obama’s ‘terrible legacy,’ and more.

Let’s talk about your blockbuster AT&T/NSA story in the Times. Since it came from the Snowden documents, how long had that been gestating?

That was a story that I first approached the Times about a while ago, and the kudos goes to the reporting partners at ProPublica and the Times, as well as Henrik Moltke, who I work with. The story had been reported out for about six months, but it’s a story that I knew needed to be told before that. It deals with Special Source Operations, or the NSA’s relationships with its partners, so those partners include corporations like AT&T, second party, and third party. [The NSA is] very careful with the language in not naming these partners, so you have to do a lot of digging. Everything is written in codenames, and you have to look at which open source reporting can be done to match up with the documents. ProPublica did great research into AT&T’s relationship with the UN. The UN pays AT&T.

So what telecom service should Americans subscribe to?

[Laughs] Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to this. I also worked on the PRISM story, but the Internet companies have done a lot more to fight back against the NSA than the telecom ones, and AT&T has probably been the worst—they haven’t pushed back in the same way that the others have.

How do you feel the big three tech companies—Google, Apple, and Facebook—have done in combatting NSA surveillance?

I think they’ve made good stands. From what they’ve learned of what the NSA was doing, they were also shocked by how much data was being collected, and so they’ve been trying to implement encryption—which is something they should have been doing before, but have now realized how important it is. I’m supportive of those efforts. Have you ever heard of a project called Signal by Open Whisper Systems? It’s the easiest thing. It’s a free software program for the iPhone where you download it, and you have encrypted text messages and phone calls. Everyone should get it, and we’re going to see more of that. And WhatsApp started using [encryption]. I’m glad that companies like Apple are stepping forward. This isn’t to say that I trust them 100 percent, because with proprietary, you never know.