Citizenfour [2014)

Four days till the US election.

OK, three.

But we must take a look at things as they seem.

And analyze what they might be.

I have always written about Edward Snowden glowingly.

But this film is an enigma.

If you know the history of film, you realize that certain filmmakers (particularly Robert Flaherty) presented staged events as if they were documentaries.

This is known as docufiction.

And if you have followed my take on the two US Presidential candidates (Johnson and Stein can suck it…though Stein has true credibility), you’ll know that my assessment of Trump and Clinton has been mainly through the lens of film.

What we (I) look for is credibility.

Having watched all three Presidential debates (in addition to extensive supplemental research), it has been a no-brainer to conclude that Hillary Clinton has ZERO credibility while Donald Trump has immense credibility.

The differentiation could not be more mark-ed.

[Docu-fiction]

But what about Edward Snowden?

Let me start off by saying that Mr. Snowden does not come off as a wholly believable whistleblower in this film.

Perhaps Laura Poitras’ inexperience as a filmmaker is to blame.

Perhaps it is indeed because Edward Snowden is no actor.

But Mr. Snowden is completely inscrutable and opaque in this documentary.

HOWEVER…

there is something about his ostensible North Carolina drawl which rings true.

And so there are two major possibilities…

  1. Edward Snowden is an extremely brave individual who succeeded in “defecting to the side of the public” (to paraphrase)
  2. Edward Snowden is a superspy

I had read of Snowden.  In studying what he had leaked, his credibility seemed beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Such a damaging agent could not possibly have been a Trojan horse operation (so I thought).

Indeed, the most believable part of this film is the last 10 minutes or so.

Sadly, my “copy” of the movie switched to a German overdub for this final segment.

Which is to say, I was more focused on images in the finale.

Every once in a while I was able to make out the beginning of a phrase from William Binney or Glenn Greenwald.

At all other times during this last portion, the German superimposed upon the English made the latter an almost palimpsest.

My German is that bad.

Entschuldigung.

But here are my reservations concerning hypothesis #1 (from above).

A).  Glenn Greenwald’s earliest interview after the leak was clearly shot with the skyline of Hong Kong in the background.  It is somewhat inconceivable that the NSA in conjunction with the CIA (and possibly the FBI or DIA) did not immediately follow Greenwald’s every move from that point forward (courtesy of operatives under the Hong Kong station chief of the CIA).

B).  Glenn Greenwald is a little too smooth to be believable (the same going for Snowden).  Greenwald’s sheer fluency in Portuguese (a bizarre choice for a second language) seems particularly suspect.  The credulous me wants to believe that Greenwald is simply brilliant.  The incredulous me sees Greenwald as just as much a CIA operative as Snowden.

Indeed, hypothesis #2 would be that Edward Snowden is in fact a CIA operative.  His complete calm at The Mira hotel in Hong Kong does not harmonize with a computer geek who just lifted the largest cache of the most top-secret files in world history.  Instead, his mannerisms almost all point to someone who has been hardened and trained at Camp Peary rather than someone who grew up so conveniently close to NSA headquarters.

Snowden is admittedly a former employee of the CIA.

But what could the purpose of such a Trojan horse exercise possibly be?

One strong possibility comes to mind.

As we learn in Dr. Strangelove, there’s no purpose in having a “doomsday machine” if the enemy doesn’t know about it.

In fact, we don’t even need cinema to illustrate this.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstrations as much as they were mass-murder war crimes.

Weapons are “tested” often as much for the power of display as for the exercise of weapon efficacy.

But the world has always been a weird place.

And it is indeed possible that Edward Snowden is an idealistic, independent party in this affair.

The esteemed Dr. Steve Pieczenik (of whom I have spoken much recently) has lately called Snowden “no hero”.

I’m not exactly sure what he means by that.

Possibly Pieczenik knows the Snowden affair to positively be an intel operation.

Possibly Dr. Pieczenik (whom I respect deeply) merely sees Snowden as of no great bravery when compared to the men and women (both military and intelligence employees) who risk their lives on battlefields across the world…by direct order through the US chain of command.

But Dr. Pieczenik has also pointed out that some orders must be disobeyed.

That is part of the responsibility of defending the Constitution “against all enemies foreign and domestic”.

So we have a very interesting case here.

And it directly parallels our current election choices.

What SEEMS to be?

What is patriotism?

At what point must standard operating procedures be put aside?

What constitutes peaceful protest?

Who among us has the duty and privilege to spearhead a countercoup?

I’ve often thought to myself that I would be a horrible NSA employee because I would have a framed picture of Snowden on my desk.

Suffice it to say, I’m sure that is strictly NOT ALLOWED.

But this film makes me doubt the Snowden story.

As a further instructive detail, why does Snowden (in this film) feel so confident in his ability to withstand torture (!) as a means of coercing from him his password(s)?

Again, that does not sound like a standard ability of an “infrastructure analyst”.

Snowden does not admit in this film to ever having been a field operative.

Indeed, it almost feels like Louisiana Story or Tabu:  A Story of the South Seas when Snowden drapes a red article of cloth over his head and torso to ostensibly prevent Greenwald and Poitras from visually seeing his keystrokes.

It is overly dramatic.

These are thoughts.

No doubt, someone knows much more than me about the truth in this strange tale.

And so the film is, in turns, shockingly brilliant and daftly mediocre.

In a strange way, it is just as suspect as James Bamford’s books on the NSA (which I have long suspected were really NSA propaganda pieces).

One of the keys to propaganda and social engineering is gaining the trust of your targets.

In a large-scale psychological operation, the entire world (more or less) is the target.

Back to cinema, we need look no further than Eva Marie Saint “shooting” Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Yes, Body of Secrets (Bamford) was damaging to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US military in general (the revelation of Operation Northwoods) while also exposing Israel as a craven “ally” (the USS Liberty “incident”).

But if we are not careful, we are taken in by these juicy bits of “truth” (in all likelihood, very much true) on our way to accepting the whole book as an accurate exposé.

And this is what makes the world of intelligence so tricky.

Like a chess game in which you are blindsided by a brilliant move.

It takes years (perhaps decades) or an innate brilliance (perhaps both) to discern the organic from the synthetic in the shifting sands of this relativistic world of espionage.

I can only guess and gut.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Realization Time” [1990)

Always apologize to the authorities.

What the French call cache-cache.

There are two great series of propaganda of which I’m aware.

One is the James Bond franchise.

The other is Twin Peaks.

External intelligence (I/O).

Internal intelligence (RB).

I/O (:OT)

RB (SW:)

I might suck at chess, but so did Napoleon.

Admitting one does not really understand does not have to lead to abject sellout.

Certain information is classified for a reason.

It was hard to come by.

It does not exist in an open source.

And so I try real hard to imagine an honorable employee of the CIA.

Maybe somebody like “Buzzy” Krongard who forgets to unpack a couple of Walther PPKs from his overnight bag before heading to the airport.

Oops…

Could happen to the best of us.

But why A.B.?

Why the lapse??

9/11:  where are they now???

When we imagine external intelligence, we might think of a world completely ruled by consequentialism and Realpolitik.

We like to think of Daniel Craig.  Sean Connery.  Roger Moore.

We like to think of our operatives as protectors.

But my guess is they perform some of the ugliest jobs on the planet.

For the state!

The dear, sweet NSA knows every book I’ve bought (unless I paid cash).

Knows my library withdrawals.

So I might as well cite Burckhardt.

The State as a Work of Art.

Seems pretty self-explanatory (if fanciful).

But German can be slippery.

And so we come to,

War as a Work of Art.

The “dilettante” Machiavelli gets the usual translation (Art of War), but not Burckhardt.

Not in my edition.

1958.

Imagination lets me conceive of a good FBI agent.

Like Coleen Rowley.

Robert Wright.

These, perhaps, are the forward projections of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

But let’s get deeper.

The turf war.

Two agencies of the same government.

Working at cross purposes.

I can easily imagine a unique relationship.

You don’t investigate our wholesale illegal activities,

and we don’t disappear your agents.

So that the CIA is beyond the law.

Perhaps it must be that way.  Beethoven might even resign it.

But it is naïve to think of the FBI as merely an investigative entity.

They too get creative.

In Twin Peaks we have an honorable man.  One of the best and brightest.

Dale Cooper.

Doing a job.  Innocent as a dove, but wise as a serpent.

When dealing with Log Lady, one gets crosswise with Elf Power and Stereolab.

Ending up, Gus the Mynah Bird with the Candy Bar Head.

There is an information hierarchy.

Pertinent to all forms of intelligence gathering and interpretation.

Data–>Info–>Knowledge (–> Wisdom)

The final stage is not optional, but it is elusive.

It is the most valuable.

It’s the part that says, “Hey, CIA man (or woman)…don’t take The Fugs too seriously.”

It’s also the fine line between bravery and stupidity (practically the same phenomenon) which inspires Sherilyn Fenn to smoke a fag in the closet.  [Err…]

Nothing to lose.  Fearless.

And what if such fire is married to morals?  Ethics?

We’re no saints, but we do a lot of selfless stuff.

And yet we spout our shit and muck up the mission of consummate professionals.

Differing perspectives.

Two meanings of intelligence.

We don’t have the intelligence (because we are civilian nobodies…combing the net for OSINT).

But we have intelligence.

It may not be Ivy League.

But it’s relentless.

 

-PD