Questions & Answers



Why did you produce yet another documentary about Edward Snowden?

Five years after the start of the Snowden disclosures, an enormous amount of articles and books have been written, documentaries and films have been produced, but there’s no overall review of what we know now of this historic event, neither an overview of what’s happened ever since, especially what’s been the impact of the disclosures in an ever changing world. This is what we envisage to share through this documentary.

What is the documentary about?

This film tells the untold story of Edward Snowden, five years after his sensational disclosure of top-secret NSA documents in June 2013. Drawing on a nearly 2 year investigation this documentary uses a combination of drama re-enactments and animations, archive, location photography and highly revealing interviews with participants and witnesses to discuss the story behind Snowden’s flights to Hong Kong and Moscow.

Who did you interview?

We interviewed some 30 people, including former colleagues, senior leaders of the US intelligence community, highly involved journalists, Snowden’s lawyers and researchers. Unfortunately we could not include all of them in the film. The 18 people who are included in the documentary are listed here with a short bio.

Was Edward Snowden himself interviewed for the documentary?

Mr. Snowden was asked for an interview through his Freedom of the Press Foundation but to this date we haven’t received a response. We have also tried to reach him through informal channels but without any result.



When did Snowden decide to download and leak classified documents?

Snowden said that his decision to leak NSA documents developed gradually, dating back at least to the time when he was working for the CIA in Geneva (2007-2009). He has stated he finally decided to act when he discovered and read a highly classified copy of a 2009 report by the NSA Inspector General about president Bush’ warrantless wiretapping program, also known by the cover name STELLARWIND (see next question).

Snowden started downloading classified files and documents in July 2012 and continued to do so until mid-May 2013 over the span of two contractor jobs to the NSA. He first contacted Glenn Greenwald on 1 December 2012 with an offer to share sensitive documents. See also the extensive timeline on this website.

What was president Bush’ warrantless wiretapping program about?

Initially, NSA only collected its foreign signals intelligence abroad, but after the attacks of 9/11, president Bush ordered additional collection on foreign terrorists inside the US. This became the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), which included:

  • Targeted collection of telephone and internet content of foreign terrorists at major backbone switches. Since 2008, this so-called Upstream collection is conducted under the legal authority of Section 702 FAA.
  • Bulk collection of internet metadata from the internet backbone facilities of US telecommunications providers for counter terrorism purposes. This collection was terminated by the end of 2011.
  • Bulk collection of telephone metadata from major US telecommunication companies for counter terrorism purposes. From 2006-2015 this was conducted under the legal authority of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

What are other NSA spying programs about?

Reporting based upon the Snowden documents revealed a large number of previously unknown NSA programs. However, not every “program” is about the collection of data, many others are actually internal projects, database systems or tools for analysts.

More information about the best-known collection programs can be found on a separate page of this website. An extensive listing of NSA codewords can be found here.

What about the spying programs of GCHQ?

The documents from the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ are more fragmented than those from the NSA. Because of less background information it is also more difficult to get a more systematic overview. A clearer legal framework for GCHQ operations is now provided by the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) from 2016.

What is mass surveillance?

Mass surveillance can be described as the intricate surveillance of an entire or a substantial fraction of a population in order to monitor that group of citizens. Mass surveillance is usually distinguished from targeted surveillance, in which the collection is aimed at individual targets or specific identifiers, like phone numbers and email addresses.

The following criteria can be applied to determine whether certain collection programs can be defined as mass surveillance:

  • Is the collection method focused or indiscriminate?
  • Does the collection take place domestically or abroad?
  • Is there collection of full content or of metadata only?
  • Is it in cooperation with internet and telecommunications providers?

Which NSA programs can be considered mass surveillance?

The criteria from the previous question applied to the main NSA programs:

Section 215 was about the bulk collection of domestic telephone metadata and can therefore be considered as potential mass surveillance. However, the program was used for counterterrorism purposes only and the database was searched for just 288 phone numbers in 2012. Also, the metadata were not paired with subscriber details, ensuring anonymity of the people whose phone records were collected. More about Section 215

MYSTIC can also be considered mass surveillance, as under this program NSA was able to collect the content of all phone calls from an entire country. They were stored in a rolling buffer of 30 days, but NSA analysts were only able to listen to less than 1% of the voice clips. MYSTIC was deployed in the Bahamas as a trial case and became fully operational in Afghanistan. More about MYSTIC

PRISM can not be considered mass surveillance because it is aimed at foreign targets and uses specific selectors like names and email addresses, which means it is targeted instead of bulk collection. Because PRISM depends on the cooperation of major US internet companies, the collection method is authorized and regulated by the FISA Court. More about PRISM

How many documents did Snowden download?

In November 2013, NSA director Keith Alexander claimed that Snowden exposed between 50,000 and 200,000 documents. In February 2014, DIA officials told US House and Senate oversight committees that Snowden accessed and downloaded nearly 1.7 million files, including over 900,000 from the Department of Defense. Glenn Greenwald said that this number was “pure fabrication”.

According to the 2016 report from the US House Intelligence Committee, Snowden removed more than 1.5 million documents from the NSANet and JWICS networks. The actual number may be as high as 1.9 million, if we include some 374,000 blank documents he downloaded from the Department of the Army Intelligence Information Service (DAIIS) Message Processing System (which actually runs on SIPRNet).

How was Snowden able to exfiltrate the documents from NSA?

According to the 2016 HPSCI report, Snowden used two “scraping” tools (DownThemAll and wget, the latter was also being used by Bradley Manning) to bulk download documents and files from two classified intelligence networks called NSANet and JWICS. Snowden also accessed personal networks drives of co-workers.

He saved the information he gathered on his personal network drive, and using a so-called “thin-on-thick” desktop computer, he then transferred the files to removable media. How Snowden actually exfiltrated these from NSA premises is still a question, but NSA security guards are known to only conduct random checks in order to keep the trust of the employees.

How many of the Snowden documents have been published?

In the five years between June 2013 and June 2018, there have been almost 220 publications based upon documents provided by Snowden. Along with these reportings, roughly 1200 documents from NSA and GCHQ, as well as some from the signals intelligence agencies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were published in full or in part.

An accessible collection of the documents can be found on the website IC Off The Record. The Snowden Surveillance Archive provides a search engine for the published documents



Who is Signpost Film Productions (SPFP)?

Signpost Film Productions is a young production company which brings scientific research and unique viewpoints into our everyday lives through film, especially documentaries. SPFP predominantly focuses on security related topics. It is our intent to bring the topic of (cyber) security closer to all people. For quality purposes SPFP partnered with GTV London to bring the research conducted by SPFP to the output of the documentary.

Will there be a follow-up to this documentary?

Signpost Film Productions is planning a longer version of the documentary to include additional information and more of the interview footage. Please follow us on our website to stay informed!



Who is GTV?

GTV Film Production is Dubai’s leading producer of documentaries, factual entertainment and corporate content, and one of the largest production houses in the Gulf region. GTV was founded 12 years ago in Dubai Media City.

GTV recently opened a production office in London bringing in strong specialist capability in factual subjects including history, science and contemporary issues, with credits including international broadcasters National Geographic, Discovery, A & E, History, Smithsonian, Travel, BBC, Channel 4, Five, ZDF, ARD, France 2, France 5, Arte and ABC Australia.

For more information, please visit their website at www.gtv.ae.

The two Directors of the Snowden documentary are Tilman Remme and Wanda Koscia. They produced countless high-end, award winning television series and documentaries for channels like the BBC, UK Channel Four and Discovery.



Who is Silverlining?

Silverlining helps producers with finding funding to get their ideas into production. They have raised more than £10 million in production finance for their clients through full commissions and co-productions and have worked with more than 60 channel partners around the world. In 2015, Silverlining expanded to become a distribution agent and represents a slate of over 400 hours of factual programming.

For more information, please visit their website at www.silverliningtv.com.