Oliver Stone and Snowden screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald were already more than a year into developing a movie about the secretive world of digital espionage and worldwide surveillance when the first Edward Snowden revelation — that the National Security Agency collected phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the United States — came to light on June 11, 2013 in the The Guardian. Fitzgerald, who would later write an HBO pilot set “at the cross-section of hacktivism and cybercrime,” was already immersed in the hacker milieu.
“ I’d been writing in this space for a few years on and off on different projects before Snowden came up,” Fitzgerald told iDigitalTimes. “Oliver knew that and understood that I felt strongly about writing a movie that portrayed this world in accurate terms that we haven’t had yet.”
The story behind Snowden began not on the day Snowden revealed his identity to the world, but at the 2012 DEF CON, the world’s largest hacker convention and convergence point for intelligence agencies, security researchers, lockpickers, gray hats, white hats, debuggers, code crackers, roboticists, surveillance experts and the people who want to tell their stories. Fitzgerald and Stone went on a research trip and met with NSA whistleblower William Binney (who was persecuted by the FBI for speaking out against mass surveillance), Tor Project developer Jacob Appelbaum and filmmaker Laura Poitras, whose documentary Citizenfour would bring viewers inside Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room years later.
At DEF CON Fitzgerald also met Ralph Echemendia, who would become the technical supervisor for Snowden.
“I don’t have a technical computer background, which is I think a pro and a con when you’re writing in this space. When it came to the nitty-gritty that’s where Ralph stepped in,” Fitzgerald said.
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