He has tackled the Kennedy assassination and the Watergate break-in, the Vietnam conflict and the Bush administration’s “war on terror”. Now the Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone is set to whip up fresh controversy with his adaptation of The Snowden Files, an account of the ongoing NSA scandal written by the Guardian journalist Luke Harding.
Stone’s thriller will focus on the experiences of the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency who leaked thousands of classified documents to the former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald back in June 2013. The film is to be produced by Stone’s regular business partner Moritz Borman, with Harding and other Guardian journalists serving as production and story consultants.
“This is one of the greatest stories of our time,” Stone, 67, said in a statement. “A real challenge. I’m glad to have the Guardian working with us.” Stone’s previous films include Platoon, JFK and W. The director has also made documentaries on Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, together with a 2012 TV series, Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States.
Snowden’s revelations, first reported in the Guardian, lifted the lid on a culture of mass government surveillance, sparked a global furore and forced the Obama administration onto the back foot. Secretary of state John Kerry later conceded that the NSA’s programme had “reached too far” and should be curtailed. Snowden’s fate, however, remains in the balance. The former NSA employee has been granted temporary asylum in Russia but faces a 30-year prison sentence if he returns to the US.
Published earlier this year, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man charts the political awakening of the twentysomething Snowden, a committed Republican who found his libertarian values increasingly at odds with his government’s surveillance programme. A review in the New York Times hailed Harding’s book as “a fast-paced, almost novelistic narrative that is part bildungsroman and part cinematic thriller.”
“The story of Edward Snowden is truly extraordinary, and the unprecedented revelations he brought to light have forever transformed our understanding of – and relationship with – government and technology,” said Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief. “We’re delighted to be working with Oliver Stone and Moritz Borman on the film.”
Conceived as a European co-production, the film is due to start shooting before the end of 2014. But time is of the essence. Stone’s film looks set to face competition from No Place to Hide, a rival project adapted from the book by Glenn Greenwald and overseen by James Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. To his critics, Snowden remains a traitor whose actions have caused possibly irreparable damage to US intelligence capabilities. In the wake of last year’s revelations, the ex-CIA director James Woolsey argued that if Snowden was convicted of treason, he should face the death penalty.
Supporters, by contrast, view the whistleblower as a patriot who acted purely in the public interest. “To me, Snowden is a hero,” Stone said in July of last year. “He revealed secrets that we should all know, that the United States has repeatedly violated the fourth amendment.”
The Guardian and the Washington Post both went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service for their groundbreaking reporting of NSA surveillance. On accepting the prize, Rusbridger paid tribute to Snowden’s role in breaking the story. “The public service [citation] in this award is significant,” he said. “Because Snowden performed a public service.”