On December 1, 2012, journalist Glenn Greenwald received a mysterious email from an anonymous source asking him for an encryption key to share sensitive information. Greenwald initially turned down the request, but little did he know that source was Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who was ready to reveal one of the biggest conspiracy theories of a generation.
Technology may've changed the means of whistleblowing — the act of a person exposing governmental or organizational wrongdoing — but it hasn't changed the motivation; revealing the immoral deeds of the seemingly untouchable. But what happens when those authorities are the authorities we should be able to trust?
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Upcoming series Berlin Station explores that concept. The premise of the show centers around an enigmatic whistleblower, known by the pseudonym Thomas Shaw, who is leaking information from within the CIA's Berlin base. The world of secrecy, classified documents and surveillance is far-fetched enough to be fabricated by the creative minds of Hollywood, but the show taps into a theme disturbingly close to reality.
How Whistleblowing Has Shaped History
Whistleblowing is nothing new. In fact, some of the biggest historical scandals were revealed by those with inside knowledge, who refused to turn a blind eye to actions they didn't agree with. From Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers, to W. Mark Felt, a.k.a "Deep Throat" unveiling the Watergate Scandal, individuals have gone to great lengths to expose the truth.
In recent years, two big whistleblowing scandals have raised serious issues about the idea of truth, and security versus secrecy. In 2006, Julian Assange, a computer programmer and hacker, launched Wikileaks, a website dedicated to leaking information. Wikileaks operated on a fairly low scale until 2010, when Private Chelsea Manning use the site to leak a large volume of top-secret documents.
Manning provided 400,000 documents, referred to as the Iraq logs. The most destructive of which was a video, titled "Collateral Murder," depicting footage from 2007 of American forces in Baghdad firing on seemingly unarmed civilians, including Reuters photographers. Their cameras were mistaken for weapons.
The backlash from government was fierce. Manning was caught and sentenced to a hefty 35 years in prison for breaching the Espionage Act of 1917. Assange, for his role in leaking the information, was also sought by the U.S, as well as a separate case based in Sweden on allegations of rape. He was granted asylum by Ecuador, and has been located in the Embassy of Ecuador in London since 2012.
Edward Snowden And Mass Surveillance
While Manning and Assange sent shockwaves through the world with their revelations of wartime wrongdoings, Snowden explored a much more widespread and modern day threat. Following Greenwald's lack of action on his initial contact, Snowden contacted documentary maker Laura Poitras, encouraging her to partner with Greenwald. Six months, the wheels were in motion.
In 2013, Snowden leaked classified information on the National Security Agency (NSA), revealing that the Orwellian nightmare of global surveillance was a very real threat, with compliance from governments and telecommunication companies. Presented under the veil of counteracting terrorism, a report by The Washington Post revealed that 90 per cent of those under surveillance were ordinary citizens who had had personal information monitored.
In response, the U.S. Department of Justice have also charged Snowden under the Espionage Act of 1917. Currently, he is located in Russia, where he was granted asylum. This year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the lead role in his biopic, Snowden. Interestingly actor Rhys Ifans, who plays a CIA agent in that movie, also stars as agent Hector DeJean in Berlin Station.
A Modern Depiction Of Conspiracies And Espionage
It's hard to ignore the similarities between Edward Snowden, and Berlin Station's fictional CIA whistleblower, Thomas Shaw. As with Snowden, Shaw is hailed as a hero by many civilians — he takes on a larger-than-life persona, also rich with references to activist group Anonymous. His identity remains unknown, yet with each leak, his support grows. Posters are seen around the world with the phrase: "I am Shaw" printed on them.
In many ways, Berlin Station is the Mr. Robot of espionage (coincidentally Anonymous Content co-produce both shows), accurately portraying the present day feeling of distrust and paranoia when it comes to authority and technology, and how the internet age has opened the door to both liberation and control.
Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) is a CIA agent tasked with going undercover to find the identity of Shaw, with hints at a wider conspiracy and links to Washington. His quest for the truth casts a gripping insight into the world of whistleblowing and espionage.
Considering the history of conspiracies revealed by those brave enough to stand against governments and mighty corporations, it may have more in common with reality than we'd like to imagine.
Berlin Station will premiere on Epix on October 16, 2016.
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(Source: The Washington Post)