[Movie Summary] How “Snowden” and “Citizenfour” Expose the US Surveillance (Director Oliver Stone, Laura Poitras)

I wrote this article in Japanese and translated it into English using ChatGPT. I also used ChatGPT to create the English article title. I did my best to correct any translation mistakes, but please let me know if you find any errors. By the way, I did not use ChatGPT when writing the Japanese article. The entire article was written from scratch by me, Saikawa Goto.



Movies and books covered in this article

(Click This Image to Go Directly to the Amazon Prime Video Movie “Snowden”: Image from Amazon.com)
(Click This Image to Go Directly to the Amazon Prime Video Movie “Citizenfour”: Image from Amazon.com)

I will write an article about this movie/book

Three takeaways from this article

  1. Phone calls, SNS, Gmail, and all communications are being collected by the United States.
  2. Snowden kept going through taking the stance, “I’ll provide the information and you can discuss the pros and cons”.
  3. Are we living in a world where we should give up our “freedom” for “safety”?

Snowden’s action for the public good was amazing, as he boldly picked a fight with the United States without hiding his face or name.

Self-introduction article

Please refer to the self-introduction article above to learn about the person writing this article. Be sure to check out the Kindle book linked below as well.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

The quotes used in this article are based on notes taken at the movie theater from movies in Japanese and are not direct quotes from the foreign language original movies, even if they exist.

This Article is Based on the Movies “Citizenfour” and “Snowden”

Snowden is a person who used to work for the American intelligence agency called NSA (National Security Agency), and he leaked top secret information stolen from there to the world. Two movies based on this true story were released almost at the same time, and this article is based on both of them.

“Citizenfour” is a documentary film. The director, Laura Poitras, made contact with Snowden in Hong Kong, and the shocking facts that he tells are recorded by the camera. As Snowden himself reveals the reality of the intelligence agency, the sense of tension and reality is intense. As someone who likes documentary films, I am overwhelmed by the overwhelming reality of the content.

Afterwards, I watched “Snowden”. This is a fictional movie based on the facts. It dramatically depicts Snowden’s experiences, struggles, and the events that led him to disclose classified information after being recruited by the NSA.

As someone who loves documentaries, it’s rare for me to say this, but between the two films, I found “Snowden” to be more interesting. This is probably because it realistically conveys what emotions Snowden was governed by in each scene. I was struck by the anguish Snowden went through before he decided to put the public interest ahead of his life as an individual and give up everything he had to expose it.

This article is based on both films and will delve into the story of Snowden.

Snowden said,

This is not science fiction. It’s reality.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

The reality portrayed is like something out of a science fiction or spy movie. We should recognize that we are living in such a world.

As for the writing style of this article, even the depiction in the fiction film “Snowden” is treated as fact. There may be some cinematic production included, but I judged the overall story is based on facts.

Reality Exposed by Snowden and Snowden Himself

I watched Snowden’s movie and put duct tape on my computer’s camera. Snowden said that American intelligence agencies have the ability to turn on the camera of a computer that is not in use and spy on the room. I’m not sure if putting duct tape is an effective solution, but it would be better than doing nothing.

Yes, what Snowden revealed is not unrelated to our lives. In fact, it can be said to be very relevant.

Even before watching Snowden’s movie, I knew the fact that “America intercepts communication all over the world with a system called Echelon.” However, many people may say “I didn’t know even that.” At this very moment, America is collecting all communications such as phone calls that are taking place all over the world.

Not only that, but even the exchanges on private social networking services are being collected by a system called XKeyscore. Although it was something I saw in the news rather than in the movie, there are technologies such as smart TVs that can appear to be turned off but are actually picking up audio in the room. Whether or not they are actually being used is unclear, but they have already been developed.

In other words, it means that all of our face-to-face conversations, phone calls, and online exchanges are known by the United States.

That’s not all. Snowden has had also worked in Japan, and during that time, he confessed that he had set traps on power grids and dams. He said,

If Japan stops being an ally, it’s over for Japan.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

It means that if Japan is recognized as an enemy of America, those traps could be activated, potentially causing significant disruptions in our daily lives.

The U.S. justifies these measures on the grounds that they are intended to “counter the threat of terrorism.” It means that it is a determination not to let 9/11 happen again. But that does not make their actions acceptable. Snowden was so troubled by this fact in the intelligence community that he resigned from the CIA.

Such Snowden revealed classified information to the world and was accused of being a spy by the US government, leading him to seek political asylum in Moscow after being stranded in the airport for 40 days due to having his passport revoked.

I don’t care how my exposure is rated. But I lost everything – my privileged life in Hawaii, my high salary, my loved ones and family. What do you think I would give up everything for?

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

Snowden’s words carry a great weight. Yes, he had the choice to live peacefully without exposing anything. He would have known all the risks and consequences of revealing classified information. Nevertheless, he made the decision to expose everything with the determination to sacrifice everything for the public good.

Such a resolve from Snowden is truly remarkable.

If You were in Snowden’s Position, Could You Do the Same Thing?

Snowden chose film director Laura Poitras as his “place of exposure” and the exposure was made public as the movie “Citizenfour.” Using a pseudonym, Snowden continued to communicate with Laura Poitras and arranged a meeting with three people, including journalist Glenn Greenwald, known for his criticism of the NSA, in Hong Kong. He then revealed the stolen confidential information, and Glenn Greenwald wrote an article for The Guardian, and then the internal disclosure was made with the release of “Citizenfour.”

He repeatedly made statements on camera to the effect of “You don’t need to worry about me.”

I’ll make it work. I knew the risks.
If I get arrested, I’ll deal with it.
I released the information that needed to be made public.
Please continue reporting, no matter what happens to me.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

No need to protect me, who is the source of information.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

I don’t want to sneak. There’s no need to do it.
I think it’s more powerful to come out boldly.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

It takes incredible courage to show his face and use his real name to pick a fight with the United States like that.

Of course, he knew the risks beforehand.

It’s a tough situation, right. This is because she was said by her lover, me, that they may not be able to come back anymore.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

The family bond we had until now cannot be maintained.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

To avoid causing trouble for those around him, he took action without telling anyone.

There are statements that show that Snowden is contemplating the whistleblowing he is about to do.

The media focuses too much on personality. I don’t like being distracted from the main issue.
The center of the discussion is not me.
I’ll do anything to make this public.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

Certainly, in any communication, including internal whistleblowing, information about the source often accompanies it. However, Snowden disliked that this would distort the focus of the issue. He wanted people to focus on the “information itself,” not “who said it.”

That is why he did not take it upon themselves to leak the information he took out.

I do not want to decide what should be made public or not. That’s why I wanted the journalists to look at it. I have a strong opinion, but I want to prioritize public interest over my own opinion.

“Citizenfour” (Director: Laura Poitras)

Snowden seems to be objectively and calmly aware of his own actions. This was particularly impressive to me while watching the movie, as he didn’t seem to behave like someone trying to achieve the biggest impact in the history of whistleblowing.

It made me feel like I couldn’t do the same, including his actions themselves and his composed demeanor. I don’t clearly know what kind of impact his exposure had on America or the world, but I would like to think that his actions had a positive effect in any form.

What did Snowden Think about “Justice”?

In the movie, there was a scene where the American intelligence agencies talked about what they think about “justice”.

Snowden discusses with his former CIA instructor, Corbin O’ Brian. Snowden points out the fact that America is “spying” on the whole world and questions if it can be considered “just”. However, Corbin responds in this way:

The majority of Americans prefer security over freedom. If they want to play it safe, it is natural that they pay the price of admission.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

Such “surveillance posture” was intensified after the 9/11 attacks. Corbin says: We must never allow such an attack to happen again. We are responsible for that kind of “security,” and if we want to enjoy that kind of “security,” it is natural that we pay the price of “giving up our freedom.

Snowden counters that not all citizens are convinced of this. In the first place, since the public is unaware of the fact that they are being “monitored,” it is impossible for them to be able to be convinced. Corbin, however, dismisses the argument by saying that if it is known about it by even just one person, the enemy will, too, and that is why we cannot let anyone know.

He further puts it this way.

It’s been 60 years since World War II, and we still haven’t had World War III. Do you know why? Because we’ve been working hard for the world.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

I don’t know if it’s really thanks to American intelligence agencies that we haven’t had World War III, but it’s certainly what they believe.

Corbin is not necessarily a bad person. For example, there’s a scene where Corbin says something like this to new CIA recruits, including Snowden:

If 9/11 happens again, it will be your responsibility. Last time it was our responsibility. It’s tough to live with that feeling.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

Corbin is fighting for “justice” in his own way. However, Snowden couldn’t agree with the means to achieve that goal.

One of the admirable things about Snowden is that he did not judge “justice” based on his own values. Regarding his motivation for exposing NSA secrets, there is a scene where Snowden says,

More than that, I want the people to judge the pros and cons of surveillance.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

I want you to decide whether I am wrong or the world is wrong.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

For Snowden, what was important was not to claim that American intelligence agencies were dangerous, but to convey the facts of what they were doing. I feel that this stance should be evaluated.

Snowden’s actions of stealing and revealing confidential information could be perceived differently depending on one’s perspective. While I personally admire his actions, I understand that some may not share the same sentiment. Nonetheless, I believe that Snowden’s approach of “presenting information and leaving judgment to others” is commendable and can be appreciated from any standpoint.

Without information to deepen our discussion, we are lost.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

He provided information that is essential to start a discussion. Therefore, based on the information provided by Snowden, we should discuss whether this can be considered “justice.” Instead of coming to a conclusion, we should begin the discussion, which is likely Snowden’s wish.

Snowden, with a sense of mission, provided information for judging “justice,” not just his own “Idea of Justice.” I was deeply moved by his passionate way of life.”

The film also depicts Snowden’s conflicts. Of course, he did not go into whistleblowing without hesitation.

I don’t want to criticize my own country.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

During a demonstration against President Bush, Snowden, walking with his girlfriend, said,

Do you understand how it feels to bear the lives of others?

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

With a sense of duty to protect his country and continuing to fight terrorism within the intelligence agency, Snowden raised his voice in anger at his girlfriend.

In this way, it can be said that he is a person who loves and wants to protect the country where he was born and raised. As a result, he was accused of being a spy and branded a traitor, but Snowden himself believed that the internal whistleblowing would lead to a better America.

I have gained the freedom to not worry about tomorrow because I followed the voice in my heart.

“Snowden” (Director: Oliver Stone)

Although he became unable to leave Russia alone due to the internal whistleblowing, he still uses the word “freedom”. It is ironic that he feels the “freedom” that he could not feel when he had access to all kinds of information around the world in the intelligence agency, in his asylum in Russia after the internal whistleblowing.

Content Introduction

Let me introduce the content of each movie.


On June 3, 2013, film director Laura Poitras and the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald were scheduled to meet with Snowden in Hong Kong.

Laura Poitras had been designated as a surveillance target by the United States, making him the perfect candidate to expose the U.S. government. So Snowden contacted him under a pseudonym while he was still working for the NSA, and they eventually arranged to meet in Hong Kong.

Snowden was on secondment from Booz Allen to the NSA, responsible for system management. He had access to the highest levels of classified information and knew exactly what the NSA was doing and how they were doing it.

Snowden’s revelations were astonishing.

The NSA was collecting not only information from across the United States, but also from all over the world. They had surveillance programs that could intercept all forms of digital and wireless communication, and even analog communication with sensors. Moreover, governments and corporations around the world were involved in these surveillance programs.

The US government has directly infiltrated the servers of internet-related companies, and a company is providing 320 million pieces of communication data per day. NSA is collecting an unbelievable amount of information at a rate of 125GB per second.

Rumors of this surveillance program had existed for some time, but it was once officially denied by NSA Director Alexander. However, Snowden’s revelations have revealed that it was indeed true.

The trigger for the implementation of such surveillance programs was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Using the “Patriot Act” enacted after the attacks as a shield, the U.S. government began collecting information even on things that seemed unrelated to terrorism or crime.

Snowden matter-of-factly revealed this shocking reality.

Since Glenn Greenwald published his article, the media coverage of this issue has intensified. One media outlet even described it as follows.

The biggest violation of human rights in American history.

Snowden’s revelations contain serious questions about the “right to freedom.” Do we have to live in a world where we have to give up our freedoms for safety? Or is it just an abuse of state power?

It’s a work that makes us think about what kind of world we are living in.


In “Snowden,” his background leading up to the exposure is depicted.

Due to a grueling military training, Snowden suffered a shattered leg bone. He was then suggested to serve the country in a different way and decided to pursue a career at the CIA. Snowden’s hobby was the internet, and his excellent knowledge and skills were sought after, especially after 9/11.

At a training school called “the Hill,” Snowden received outstanding grades; he even completed an assignment that was told to do in five hours in just 38 minutes.

Afterwards, Snowden was assigned to various countries such as Geneva and Japan to perform his duties, but he saw and heard various facts he didn’t know about, and it hurt his heart. He thought about telling his girlfriend Lindsay about the fact that America is intercepting information from all over the world, but doing so would involve her too. Snowden, while carrying the pain of not being able to even talk to his girlfriend about his biggest worry, believes that his work is contributing to protecting America, and continues to work even as he suffers from health problems.

However, little by little, Snowden becomes unable to accept the reality he has learned. Therefore, he decides to blow the whistle on America’s actions to question their ethics to the world, but…


As mentioned earlier, the facts depicted in this movie are directly related to our daily lives. It is safe to assume that all of our exchanges on SNS such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as phone calls and LINE chats, are being collected by the US government. They may even be using the camera and microphone on your computer or smartphone to spy on you.

Living in a connected world through the internet means this is the reality.

We should seriously consider Snowden’s question, “Is it okay to live in a world where ‘freedom’ is taken away for the sake of ‘safety’?” This is because it may come back to haunt you someday if you think it doesn’t concern you and ignore it.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

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