Edward Snowden

Snowden Documentary Director Sues to Find Out How She Ended Up on Watchlists

She was getting pulled aside and interrogated almost a decade before Citizenfour.

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But does she own any pressure cookers?
Credit: PopTech

Most of us probably didn't know who Laura Poitras was before she connected with Edward Snowden to help steward the release of National Security Agency (NSA) mass domestic surveillance documentation. For those for whom her name still inspires blank stares, she was the director of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour and won an Academy award for her work.

She was known to Snowden prior to her role in his whistleblowing, and that's one of the reasons Snowden reached out to her and Glenn Greenwald. She has produced other documentaries about the war on terror, including My Country, My Country, about life in Iraq under U.S. occupation (also nominated for an Academy award), and The Oath, about two men who worked for Osama bin Laden.

She was also known to the federal government. From 2006 until 2012 she found herself being pulled aside, detained and questioned by officials when she tried to fly. She was on a Department of Homeland Security watchlist. Poitras is now suing to try to get information explaining how she ended up on a list to be detained and interrogated for what seems to be purely for her documentary coverage of the war on terror, not her participation in it.

Poitras was finally apparently removed from the watchlist in 2012 after Greenwald wrote about her predicament at Salon. But that wasn't enough. Poitras wanted to know how she ended up in her situation and filed a Freedom of Information Act request in January 2014 for more information to several federal agencies. A year and a half later she has nothing, and now she's suing for an explanation, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). From The Intercept:

Poitras is being represented by lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. "The well-documented difficulties Ms. Poitras experienced while traveling strongly suggest that she was improperly targeted by federal agencies as a result of her journalistic activities," EFF senior counsel David Sobel told the Intercept.  "Those agencies are now attempting to conceal information that would shed light on tactics that appear to have been illegal.  We are confident that the court will not condone the government's attempt to hide its misconduct under a veil of 'national security.'"

According to Poitras' lawsuit, at least two federal agencies have failed to even acknowledge or respond to her FOIA requests. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did acknowledge her request but sent back form responses twice indicating that her request was "too broad," though it was specifically requesting information about her difficulties with flights. She never got any information from them, nor from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

But, since Poitras attempted this FOIA effort, there's been a change in policy at the DHS. After others have successfully challenged the secrecy of the government's no-fly list and the lack of any substantive due process for innocent folks to get off the list, the Department of Justice announced some reforms. The DHS will now acknowledge when a specific person has been denied boarding and put on a no-fly list and, if possible, provide the "specific criterion" by which they were included, while not revealing classified information.

Poitras' situation is a bit different because she was on a "watchlist," not the no-fly list. As The Intercept has also previously revealed, there are hundreds of thousands of people on federal watchlists with no known connection to terrorism who, like Poitras, get interrogated whenever they try to fly somewhere.

Read Poitras' complaint here.

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  1. Terrorists have no right to petition for redress of grievances!

    1. Did she ever say anything bad about any academics? Many of them are known to have contacts with the FBI?and thank heavens they do, for nothing gets done in this country unless you know the right person. That, apparently, is how New York prosecutors came to give so much special attention to our nation’s leading criminal satire case?an NYU professor contacted an “acquaintance” at the FBI, who referred the professor (since such a shocking crime, oddly enough, did not come under the “purview” of the FBI) to a friend of hers at the office of the Manhattan district attorney, where techniques had been developed to deal precisely with criminal enterprises of the sort. See the trial testimony and other documentation at:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. Sorry lady, you were due processed. Get over it.

    1. We all get doo process in this country.

  3. “From 2006 until 2012 she found herself being pulled aside, detained and questioned by officials when she tried to fly. She was on a Department of Homeland Security watchlist. “

    Yeah, along with something like 50,000 other harmless people, including myself for ~3 years

    I applied to the TRIP system in 2008, and got a letter back ‘neither confirming nor denying’ that i had been on any watch-list, but my flying problems ended. I missed being a celebrity.

    1. Just once I want to shit my pants and then go through that security system. Just once.

      1. There is in fact a great deal of added convenience of being a Watch-List person.

        No lines. I could go straight to any person at any counter (not even my own airline) and they’d ring the DHS guys, who’d show up in a golf-cart (*at bigger airports) and wheel me to the private area where they’d check my bags and ask me some checklist questions. They’d even give me a ride to my gate if it was a super-long walk. Most of the time they were bored senseless and after a few jokes they’d share some funny stories of Watch-List gone-wrong situations. It was apparent to me from day-1 that the absolute wrong thing to do (*which 90% of people probably did) was to get all “MAH RIGHTS!!” up in their grill, which just made their lives miserable.

        Instead most of the time they were super-nice and apologetic and 100% aware that they were in the service of a gigantic bureaucratic fuckup which netted exactly zero Actual Persons of Interest, which was often just used to mess with people who’d pissed off some federal agency at some point.

        When I asked for a ride to the airport bar instead of my gate, they always obliged.

        1. I was also careful to be polite and sympathetic (especially to the gate agent, who always apologized for having to call the TSA, give them my drivers license number, and generally then let me board. The stupidity of it was breath-taking. But I hadn’t known at the time that it was also politically motivated and aimed at ‘trouble-makers’. Aside from posting here, and occasionally ‘sharing’ on FB I generally remain under the radar. Annoying as it is to be low-key it beats subpoenas from over-ambitious prosecutors. NTTAWWT.

          1. ” I hadn’t known at the time that it was also politically motivated and aimed at ‘trouble-makers”

            Guess how I got included in the Watch-List frequent-flyer VIP club?

    2. Me too. From 2004 to 2006. I was ‘SELECTED’, as it said on my boarding pass. I also got a noncommittal letter from our friendly Feds, and haven’t had a problem since. In fact, I now have PreCheck and don’t have to take my shoes off or remove my laptop. Nyeah nyeah to you guys at the TSA. (Only kidding..meant entirely as a satirical comment…)
      Security theater at its finest.

  4. Poitras’ situation is a bit different because she was on a “watchlist,” not the no-fly list. As The Intercept has also previously revealed, there are hundreds of thousands of people on federal watchlists with no known connection to terrorism who, like Poitras, get interrogated whenever they try to fly somewhere.

    Fun fact: If you get uppity about being on the watchlist, they add you to the Disposition Matrix.

  5. BFYTW!

  6. But I’m meant to despise Snowden in all this.

  7. In my lifetime I could walk up to a counter at LAX and buy ticket for a flight to Miami with $100 bill and get a dollar change. I’m not ancient yet, 54. That she’s been inspected at all for her travels is still a bit breathtaking to me.

    1. As a kid we traveled a LOT. I remember just showing up at the airport, bags packed, and flying standby on whatever combination of connections could get us where we wanted to go- internationally.

      No problems.

  8. I really gotta stop reading Hit and Run while listening to Amon Amarth.

    It fills me with the urge to grow an epic beard, strip down to my underwear, strap a bastard sword to my back, and drag a woodchipper down to the federal courthouse to start righting some wrongs.

  9. Anonymity in government leads to totalitarianism & tyranny. Everything the government does should be transparent, fully disclosed to the public.

  10. She should send a request to the Chinese. They probably have a hacked copy of her file.

  11. Snowden Documentary Director Sues to Find Out How She Ended Up on Watchlists

    The answer is in the title.

  12. Any agency within the Leviathan that does properly respond to FOIA requests is an outlier, and its head will soon receive “walking papers”.
    SNAFU!

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