Laura Poitras wasn’t Edward Snowden’s first choice to share his secrets about the NSA’s domestic spying program, but in the months since she first made contact with the whistleblower she’s become the face behind the scandal.
Snowden, who spilled his secrets about the NSA program to Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was actually rebuffed in his first attempt to contact Greenwald. In December of last year, Snowden sent Greenwald an anonymous email saying he had documents he wanted to share and giving instructions on how to encrypt communications, but Greenwald never replied.
So Snowden moved on to a new target — documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras.
“I thought, okay, if this is true, my life just changed,” Poitras told the New York Times in a lengthy and well-written profile. “It was staggering, what he claimed to know and be able to provide. I just knew that I had to change everything.”
It ended up being a bold and fruitful move. Poitras had the know-how to act as a go-between for Snowden and Greenwald, helping keeping their communications secret as Edward Snowden detailed the information Greenwald would need for the story.
Greenwald, who has taken most of the credit for revealing the program despite sharing a byline with Laura Poitras, said the filmmaker is actually key to the whole story.
“I keep calling her the Keyser Soze of the story, because she’s at once completely invisible and yet ubiquitous,” Greenwald said, referring to the character in The Usual Suspects who appeared to be no one of importance but actually masterminded the whole caper. “She’s been at the center of all of this, and yet no one knows anything about her.”
Before taking a central role in the Edward Snowden story, Laura Poitras served as a producer for many politically themed documentaries, including The Oath, Flag Wars, and Free Tibet.