In the interest of full disclosure, I honestly believe Oliver Stone’s JFK is one of the greatest movies of our generation. That said, and factually speaking, there’s a lot of hooey in there, too. But that’s what filmmaking is ultimately about: making the unbelievable believable, and in Oliver Stone’s prime, with JFK as his high-water mark, there were few directors who could rival him.
So it makes perfect sense that Stone will direct a movie based on Luke Harding’s book, “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.” Not only will we get two Snowden movies (here’s me, camping out at the theater already), but we’ll also get two movies that will compete to amplify the conspiratorial intrigue and melodrama that fueled this story from the beginning.
And already, “The Snowden Files” will be difficult to top by those measures, even in competition with “No Place To Hide,” the forthcoming movie based on the book by the generally deceptive and hyperbolic Glenn Greenwald.
Before Stone was even attached to the project, the book itself was loaded with made-for-Hollywood cloak & dagger mystery. Put another way: Harding’s book is full of shit.
Before we get into it, let’s have some appropriate background music.
First of all, Harding reported in The Guardian that NSA or the British GCHQ was deleting the text of his book while he was typing it (in reality, it was likely a stuck delete or insert key on his keyboard) and that his keyboard would go nuts — beeping and flashing somehow. Here are several other bizarre Oliver-Stone-ish things from just one of the chapters:
1) Snowden flipped out when reporter Ewen MacAskill brought an iPhone into his hotel room in Hong Kong:
Snowden agreed to meet MacAskill the next morning. The encounter went smoothly until the reporter produced his iPhone. He asked Snowden if he minded if he taped their interview, and perhaps took some photos? Snowden flung up his arms in alarm, as if prodded by an electric stick. “I might as well have invited the NSA into his bedroom,” MacAskill says.
2) In Hong Kong, and before he outed himself, Snowden thought he could thwart eavesdropping with pillows and soy sauce.
Snowden’s own precautions were remarkable. He piled pillows up against the door to stop anyone eavesdropping from outside in the corridor. When putting passwords into computers, he placed a big red hood over his head and laptop, so the passwords couldn’t be picked up by hidden cameras. On the three occasions he left his room, Snowden put a glass of water behind the door next to a bit of tissue paper. The paper had a soy sauce mark with a distinctive pattern. If anyone entered the room, the water would fall on the paper and it would change the pattern.
3) Greenwald, while in Hong Kong, threatened to stomp off and take the story elsewhere if The Guardian didn’t hurry up and publish it. This partly explains the four-hour window for the government’s response.
Greenwald signalled that he was ready and willing to self-publish or take the scoop elsewhere if the Guardian hesitated.
4) The book alleges that as soon as the article went live, The Guardian editors were followed by weird “sidewalk diggers” and other suspicious characters.
That evening, diggers arrived and tore up the sidewalk immediately in front of the Guardian’s US office, a mysterious activity for a Wednesday night. With smooth efficiency, they replaced it. More diggers arrived outside Gibson’s home in Brooklyn. Soon, every member of the Snowden team was able to recount similar unusual moments: “taxi drivers” who didn’t know the way or the fare; “window cleaners” who lingered next to the editor’s office. “Very quickly, we had to get better at spycraft,” Gibson says.
5) Do I even need to get into The Guardian‘s hilariously ludicrous computer smash-up story, which is featured prominently in the book?
So, yes, we’re probably going to see sidewalk diggers, covert taxi drivers, window-washing spies and hotel soy sauce OPSEC in the Stone version of the story. But hopefully Stone and his production team will have a better eye for detail and actually show smashed MacBook parts instead of smashed PC desktop parts in their footage of The Guardian staffers destroying, you know, MacBooks.