Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (2008 Film/Video) has been honored with two major journalism awards for her reporting on National Security Association surveillance programs that whistle-blower Edward Snowden brought to light. The Washington Post and The Guardian each received the Pulitzer Prize for public service for “the revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency,” as reported by Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Barton Gellman and Ewan MacAskill. In the same week, the group of reporters also received the prestigious Polk Award for national security reporting.
In January 2013, Poitras was contacted by an anonymous source saying that he had sensitive documents related to NSA surveillance that he wanted to bring to light. In the months that followed, Poitras emailed with the source through an encrypted connection, eventually bringing Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill into the correspondence. In May 2013, Poitras, Greenwald and MacAskill flew to Hong Kong to meet the source, who turned out to be former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In early June, the reporters broke his story simultaneously in The Washington Post and The Guardian and released a video interview with Snowden, shot by Poitras, on YouTube.
In a New York Times Magazine profile of Poitras, Snowden told reporter Peter Maass why he went to Poitras with his secrets: “Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, [which] resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programmes involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given—reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world—making her an obvious choice.”
Snowden’s revelations now play a central role in Poitras’s next documentary, about surveillance in post-9/11 America. Along with her previous films, My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010), this film will form a trilogy titled “The New American Century.”