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Arts and Culture

This TV Show Predicted NSA Surveillance Right Down to the Edward Snowden Whistle-Blower

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Posted on Jan 15, 2014

  Jacob Pitts as Henry L. Peck, the Edward Snowden type from “Person of Interest’s” 22nd episode, “No Good Deed.” Photo from CBS.

The writers of the CBS drama “Person of Interest” either have remarkable powers of prediction or a top-notch surveillance operation of their own.

As The New Yorker explains, the “science fiction” show, which premiered in the fall of 2011, already centered around the idea of mass surveillance by the government. In a case of life and art imitating each other a little too well, the show’s scribes also conceived of a young Edward Snowden type—16 months before they heard about him.

The morning of June 9, 2013, was surreal for the writers of “Person of Interest,” the science-fictional CBS drama about government surveillance. Sixteen months earlier, they had written an episode about an N.S.A. whistle-blower—a fresh-faced, thirty-three-year-old analyst named Henry Peck. When Peck discovers that his agency is conducting “illegal surveillance on a massive scale,” he sets up a meeting with a journalist, and soon finds himself evading a squad of government assassins. (“Our own government has been spying on us,” he says, “and they’re trying to kill me to cover it up!”) The episode, called “No Good Deed,” had aired in May, 2012.

Now, more than a year later, it turned out that there was a real N.S.A. whistle-blower: Edward Snowden. Like the fictional Peck, Snowden had a youthful face, a swoop of brown hair, and an idealistic streak that seemed at odds with his job at a spy agency. “We all came into work having read the Guardian article,” Amanda Segel, a writer and co-executive producer, recalled, “and we realized we had actually done an episode that mirrored this very real story in Season 1.” The writers spent the morning adjusting to the idea that their “grounded sci-fi” show had somehow become, as Segel put it, “more real.”

Spooky.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer


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