Laura Poitras

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Person.png Laura Poitras   WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Director, producer)
Laura Poitras at PopTech 2010 (cropped).jpg
BornFebruary 2, 1964
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Alma materThe New School
Parents • Patricia Poitras
• James Poitras
Founder ofThe Intercept
Relatives • Edward J. Poitras
• Christine Poitras
• Jennifer Poitras
One of the initial three people to meet Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013. Co-founder of The Intercept.

Laura Poitras is an American director and producer of documentary films. In 2013, Poitras was one of the initial three people to meet Edward Snowden in Hong Kong and to receive copies of his NSA documents.[1] Poitras and Glenn Greenwald are the only two people who had full archives of Snowden's leaked NSA documents, according to Greenwald.

In 2014, she co-cofounded The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, generously funded by deep state operative and billionaire Pierre Omidyar.


Laura Poitras is the middle daughter of multimillionaires Patricia "Pat" and James "Jim" Poitras[2]. In 2007 they donated $20 million[3] for psychiatric research at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Poitras co-directed, produced, and shot her documentary, Flag Wars (2003), about gentrification in Columbus, Ohio. It received a Peabody Award, Best Documentary at both the 2003 South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, and the Filmmaker Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The film launched the 2003 season of the PBS TV series POV. It was nominated for a 2004 Independent Spirit Award and a 2004 Emmy Award.[4]

She is a recipient of MacArthur Foundation[5] and Ford Foundation grants.[6]

Her film My Country, My Country (2006), about life for Iraqis under U.S. occupation, was nominated for an Academy Award. The Oath (2010), concerns two Yemeni men caught up in America's War on Terror, won the Excellence in Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.[7] The two films form parts of a trilogy. The last third Citizenfour (2014) details how the War on Terror increasingly focuses on Americans through surveillance, covert activities, and attacks on whistleblowers.

Government surveillance

Poitras has been subject to monitoring by the U.S. Government, which she speculates is because of a wire transfer she sent in 2006 to Riyadh al-Adhadh, the Iraqi medical doctor and Sunni political candidate who was the subject of her 2006 documentary My Country, My Country.[8] After completing My Country, My Country, Poitras claims, "I've been placed on the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) watch list" and have been notified by airport security "that my 'threat rating' was the highest the Department of Homeland Security assigns".[9] She says her work has been hampered by constant harassment by border agents during more than three dozen border crossings into and out of the United States. She has been detained for hours and interrogated and agents have seized her computer, cell phone and reporters notes and not returned them for weeks. Once she was threatened with being refused entry back into the United States.[10] In response to a Glenn Greenwald article on this issue, a group of film directors began a petition to protest against the government's actions towards her.[11] In April 2012, Poitras was interviewed about surveillance on Democracy Now! and called elected leaders' behavior "shameful".[12][13]

2015 lawsuit over government harassment

In January 2014, Poitras filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act[14] to learn the reason for being searched, detained and interrogated on multiple occasions.[15] After receiving no response to her FOIA request, Poitras filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice and other security agencies in July 2015.[16] More than a year later, Poitras received 1,000+ pages of material from the federal government. The documents indicate that Poitras's repeated detainments were due to U.S. government suspicion that she had prior knowledge of a 2004 ambush on U.S. troops in Iraq, an allegation Poitras denies.[17]

Political analyst Tarzie observes:

In light of Greenwald’s candid placement of the Snowden Affair in the entertainment world, it’s fitting that the whistleblower anointed a filmmaker, Laura Poitras, to be among the few custodians of his leaks. In addition to practically assuring at least one feature film about him would be made, Poitras offered a brand built on her own run-ins with thesecurity state. A year and two months before Greenwald met Snowden in Hong Kong, he wrote a lengthy article about Poitras’s allegedly numerous detainments at airports by Homeland Security officials, ostensibly because of films she had made about the War on Terror. Because of this harassment, Poitras is reportedly a "digital exile" in Berlin, returning to the United States only when the extremely necessary work of collecting Pulitzers and Oscars needs doing.

As dissident artists hounded by state authorities go, Poitras seems unusually well-connected to the people and institutions that could make a crucial phone call on her behalf. Her patrons include Pierre Omidyar - who funds The Intercept, and Jeffrey Skoll, whose Participant Media produced Citizenfour. Omidyar and Skoll seem particularly odd partners in fighting state power, given that they both have very close relationships with USAID, which for decades has been linked to the CIA as a front for covert operations. The Omidyar Network has been linked to both the Maidan uprising in Ukraine and the ascent of ultra-nationalist Narendra Modi in India.[18]


  8. quote=Then again, [Poitras] told me, the trigger may have been a wire transfer that she sent in 2006 to Dr. Riyadh when his family fled Iraq’s civil war. [Journalist John] Bruning's book claims that the battalion suspected the doctor of being an insurgent. (There is no evidence for this, either.)
  11. Mike Flemming, Documentary Directors Protest Homeland Security Treatment Of Helmer Laura Poitras, Deadline Hollywood, April 9, 2012.
  12. |