Surveillance: Snowden NSA Controversy

The Real Story Behind Citizenfour's Oscar

By Benjamin Wittes, Cody M. Poplin
Monday, February 23, 2015, 4:21 PM

Like a lot of Lawfare readers, we were pretty surprised by Citizenfour's triumph at the Oscars last night. It wasn't just that there was Glenn Greenwald, foe of all things mainstream, holding---of all things---that picture of establishment respectability, the Oscar. It was, more importantly, the question of who the heck decided to honor this paranoid and self-congratulatory film? At first, we thought the explanation must be the politics of Hollywood. That was before we took a close look at the photo of Greenwald holding the Oscar.

Untitled design

You might not notice it in the elegant zoomed-out photo of Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras (top left). But at the suggestion of an anonymous source who contacted Lawfare through our InSecureDrop communications system, we zoomed in on the Oscar itself (top right) and something odd became visible on the base of the trophy. When we zoomed in more, it looked like there was some kind of a microchip embedded in the base of the Oscar. Or something.

Now who would install some kind of electronic device in an Oscar to put it in the hands of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras? As they say in The Usual Suspects, it has to be "Somebody with power. Somebody who was capable of tracking [them] to L.A."

It has to be someone who knows how to interfere with supply chains and turn anything into a surveillance device.

You see where we're going with this.

Of course, we have no actual evidence that the NSA engineered the Citizenfour Oscar in order to put a listening device into the willing hands of its most implacable foes. Making that up will be tomorrow's project.