Former NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis Weighs In On New Edward Snowden Movie You can probably guess what a former deputy director of the National Security Agency thinks of the new biopic on Edward Snowden.
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A Former NSA Deputy Director Weighs In On 'Snowden'

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A Former NSA Deputy Director Weighs In On 'Snowden'

A Former NSA Deputy Director Weighs In On 'Snowden'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Edward Snowden is back in the headlines and so is the debate over whether the former National Security Agency contractor is a traitor or a patriot. On Capitol Hill this week, the House Intelligence Committee wrapped up a two-year investigation of Snowden and concluded he is, quote, "a serial exaggerator who caused tremendous damage to national security." That's one view. The other comes from the director Oliver Stone.


JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (As Edward Snowden) The NSA is really tracking every cellphone in the world.

SIMON: "Snowden," the movie, opened this weekend, and it portrays Mr. Snowden as a hero. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly got to wondering how all of this plays out at the NSA. So she called the man who became the public face of the agency when the Snowden story broke.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Chris Inglis has never actually met Edward Snowden, which is the first of many bones he has to pick with the new movie.


GORDON-LEVITT: (As Edward Snowden) The deputy director of the NSA offered me a new position.

KELLY: That's the actor playing Snowden. There's a scene where the NSA Deputy Director asks Snowden to go to Hawaii and lead a big project. The deputy director at the time, in real life, was Chris Inglis.

CHRIS INGLIS: It's preposterous on its face for many reasons.

KELLY: Among them, says Inglis...

INGLIS: ...That a deputy director would reach down to a contractor who is performing an important but relatively low-level function and ask them to take on a Jason Bourne-like activity. It simply exceeds all propriety.

KELLY: Chris Inglis allows that "Snowden" the movie will shape public perceptions about Snowden the man, that it can shift public opinion on who's the hero and who's the villain in the ongoing drama over the top-secret files Snowden leaked and what damage they may have caused. The movie never claims to be a documentary. Inglis points out, one of the opening shots announces it's a dramatization of actual events.

INGLIS: Dramatization, to me, means you add the occasional exclamation point, you bring in a musician to perhaps add some background music, but you don't tell a story that is fiction.

KELLY: Asked what other aspects of the movie strike him as fiction, Inglis says it portrays NSA staffers as cavalier and uncaring about people's right to privacy, which he says is not true. Inglis also points to this scene.


RHYS IFANS: (As Corbin O'Brian) We're going to start with an aptitude test.

KELLY: Snowden and his fellow recruits at the CIA - yes, Snowden worked there, too - are assigned to build a covert communications network. Average time to complete the test - five hours - not Snowden.


GORDON-LEVITT: (As Edward Snowden) I finished the whole thing.

IFANS: (As Corbin O'Brian) It's been 40 minutes.

GORDON-LEVITT: (As Edward Snowden) Thirty-eight.

IFANS: (As Corbin O'Brian) What?

GORDON-LEVITT: (As Edward Snowden) Thirty-eight minutes.

KELLY: Former NSA number two, Chris Inglis, rolls his eyes at this scene.

INGLIS: Clearly, a clever person, but NSA makes a habit of hiring smart people, extremely smart people, also principled people. So he was clearly the former. It turns out he wasn't the latter.

KELLY: OK, by now, you've gathered where Inglis lands in the is Snowden a patriot or a traitor debate. Chris Inglis served 28 years at the NSA. He is the first to admit he's not impartial. His is one of many voices NPR is airing this week, supporters and critics, weighing in both on the new movie and a new campaign for Snowden to be granted a presidential pardon. Snowden declined our request for an interview, as did the current leaders of the NSA. Inglis says, he can't speak for them, but he says he is open to viewing Snowden and his motives as complicated.

INGLIS: I do see him as a more nuanced character somewhere, you know, there was an attempt - or perhaps an intent on his part to do something noble.

KELLY: Chris Inglis acknowledges the NSA should have been more transparent about its domestic surveillance activities since 9/11.

INGLIS: But we've listened to Edward Snowden. We've heard what he had to say. We took that moment to kind of examine, to be introspective about, you know, what is it that he might be talking about that we need to take heed of and do something about. And then, having considered all of that, as we must, we've moved on. And so NSA is looking forward.

KELLY: In real life, Snowden remains in exile in Moscow. He communicates via Twitter and video link. This week he weighed in, via video, saying he hopes the film will reach a new audience on, quote, "the issues that matter the most." He also said, I love my country. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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