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Truthdigger of the Week: Laura Poitras

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Posted on Aug 18, 2013
Kris Krug (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Alexander Reed Kelly

(Page 2)

In the 1930s and ’40s, German intellectuals, artists and liberals fled their country to seek sanctuary and freedom of expression in the United States. Today, Poitras lives in social democratic Berlin where she can work on her sixth film, the documentary about government surveillance, without worrying about the FBI showing up at her apartment with a search warrant for her hard drives. “I’m not stopping what I’m doing,” she told Maass, “but I have left the country. I literally didn’t feel like I could protect my material in the United States, and this was before I was contacted by Snowden. If you promise someone you’re going to protect them as a source and you know the government is monitoring you or seizing your laptop, you can’t actually physically do it.”

Maass describes Greenwald and Poitras’ work as being “organized like an intelligence operation, with Poitras as the mastermind.” In Maass’ article, Greenwald credits Poitras with making their work safe. “Operational security—she dictated all of that,” Greenwald said. “Which computers I used, how I communicated, how I safeguarded the information, where copies were kept, with whom they were kept, in which places. She has this complete expert level of understanding of how to do a story like this with total technical and operational safety. None of this would have happened with anything near the efficacy and impact it did, had she not been working with me in every sense and really taking the lead in coordinating most of it.”

Combined with her editorial independence, Poitras’ rare experience successfully evading official surveillance at the frontier of the digital information wars makes her an exemplar of the new model of investigative journalist scrutinizing and criticizing government power. Maass writes: “Poitras possesses a new skill set that is particularly vital—and far from the journalistic norm—in an era of pervasive government spying: she knows, as well as any computer-security expert, how to protect against surveillance.” That skill has come at a cost, however: “Our lives will never be the same,” Poitras told Maass of herself and Greenwald. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to live someplace and feel like I have my privacy. That might be just completely gone.”

Maass’ endorsement should drive a new generation of brave journalists to acquire the skills Poitras has had to learn on her own. If in the future Americans are going to have any knowledge of what their elected leaders are doing to them and others in their name, it will be because of people like her. For her courage, dedication and cleverness in risking her life to inform the rest of us, we honor Laura Poitras as our Truthdigger of the Week.

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