From Russia, With Love: Bond Producers Give Snowden License to Spill


Sony’s Columbia Pictures has picked up the rights to a new book about Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal written by one of the journalists that Snowden chose to use to leak the classified information on NSA surveillance last year. Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for the U.K. paper The Guardian, won a Pulitzer Prize for his work covering the scandal and released his book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State on Wednesday.

The movie rights were purchased by Columbia and the project will be produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli of EON Productions, the same group responsible for the James Bond spy franchise.

“Edward Snowden’s explosive revelations have raised important questions about the role of government in protecting its citizens and the balance between national security and personal freedom,” said Doug Belgrad, president of Columbia Pictures, in a statement seen by Entertainment Weekly. “We are extremely proud that Michael, Barbara, and Glenn chose Sony to bring this riveting story to the big screen, and believe that Glenn’s account of this incredible international event will make for a gripping and unforgettable film.”

“Growing up, I was heavily influenced by political films, and am excited about the opportunity to be part of a political film that will resonate with today’s moviegoers,” said Greenwald in the announcement.

The journalist appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Wednesday to discuss the book and his role in exposing the NSA scandal to the public. Greenwald spoke about Snowden’s motivation for releasing the documents to journalists rather than the public or a foreign government, as well as Snowden’s decision to remain in exile in Russia. Greenwald also swung back at critics who believe that he and Snowden have endangered the American public to terrorist threats by reporting information about the U.S. government’s spying practices.

“Terrorists and extremists and the like have always known that we are trying to eavesdrop on their communications. … So I don’t think there’s any evidence at all that the reporting that we’ve done has in any way impeded the U.S. government’s ability to spy on actual terrorists. What we’ve really revealed is that everybody else in the world is also the target of the spying,” Greenwald told NPR’s Terry Gross.

Snowden is certainly still a highly popular and controversial topic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean his story will translate into a successful film. In the fall, Benedict Cumberbatch starred in The Fifth Estate, a film about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The movie tanked at the box office, having one of the worst openings of 2013, according to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, as it seemed people — especially in conservative states — showed little interest in Assange. It certainly didn’t help that the controversial founder of the whistleblower site WikiLeaks took on a personal vendetta against The Fifth Estate by releasing his own free documentary, Mediastan.

“This weekend,” Assange said in a statement seen by The Hollywood Reporter at the time, “instead of wasting your time and money on Hollywood propaganda, why not get all your friends around and spend your time watching Mediastan instead?”

Having the people behind James Bond involved in the Snowden movie could result in it being entertaining enough for a bigger slice of American audiences to be interested in seeing. Hopefully that can be achieved while simultaneously sticking to the truth of the matter by adhering to Greenwald’s account. Unfortunately, Greenwald’s description of what happened doesn’t exactly sound like the makings of a great action movie.

“I think it’s easy to overestimate the amount of time that it takes to understand what’s in that number of documents. … You got through tens of thousands, literally; maybe you don’t read every line but you certainly get enough of a sense of what these documents are to make decisions about them. And that’s what [Snowden] did before he gave them to us. And we do feel that we’ve gotten a handle on what all of these documents are. We’ve looked at them several times; we’ve spent many months doing it,” Greenwald said to NPR about the process of deciding what information would be made public and what would be kept secret. Certainly important work, but maybe it should be cut down a bit if Columbia doesn’t want the movie to go the way of The Fifth Estate.

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