Reprinted from Newsweek
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange investigates the book behind Snowden, Oliver Stone's forthcoming film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Nicolas Cage, Scott Eastwood and Zachary Quinto. According to leaked Sony emails, movie rights for the book were bought for $700,000.
The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man(Guardian/Faber & Faber, 2014) by Luke Harding is a hack job in the purest sense of the term. Pieced together from secondary sources and written with minimal additional research to be the first to market, the book's thrifty origins are hard to miss.
The Guardian is a curiously inward-looking beast. If any other institution tried to market its own experience of its own work nearly as persistently as The Guardian, it would surely be called out for institutional narcissism. But because The Guardian is an embarrassingly central institution within the moribund "left-of-center" wing of the U.K. establishment, everyone holds their tongue.
In recent years, we have seen The Guardian consult itself into cinematic history -- in the Jason Bourne films and others -- as a hip, ultra-modern, intensely British newspaper with a progressive edge, a charmingly befuddled giant of investigative journalism with a cast-iron spine.
The Snowden Files positions The Guardian as central to the Edward Snowden affair, elbowing out more significant players like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras for Guardian stablemates, often with remarkably bad grace.
"Disputatious gay" Glenn Greenwald's distress at the U.K.'s detention of his husband, David Miranda, is described as "emotional" and "over-the-top." My WikiLeaks colleague Sarah Harrison -- who helped rescue Snowden from Hong Kong -- is dismissed as a "would-be journalist."
I am referred to as the "self-styled editor of WikiLeaks." In other words, the editor of WikiLeaks. This is about as subtle as Harding's withering asides get. You could use this kind of thing on anyone.
The book is full of flatulent tributes to The Guardian and its would-be journalists. "[Guardian journalist Ewen] MacAskill had climbed the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau. His calmness now stood him in good stead." Self-styled Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is introduced and reintroduced in nearly every chapter, each time quoting the same hagiographic New Yorker profile as testimony to his "steely" composure and "radiant calm."
That this is Hollywood bait could not be more blatant.
Adaptation rights for Harding's book were acquired last year by Oliver Stone, whose Edward Snowden film began principal photography in January, and is due for release just before Christmas. I wince to think of the money that has now soaked into this turkey of a book.
According to the budget for the production, found in the Sony archive leak published by WikiLeaks on Thursday, April 16, the film rights for Harding's book fetched $700,000, none of which, it must be remarked, has been contributed to Snowden's legal defense. Having spoken to Stone, I'm confident that he is aware of the humdrum nature of his source material, and that his script does not lean too heavily on the book.
If any A-list director can put the sour omen of a Luke Harding film rights purchase behind him, it is probably Stone. And yet I'm still surprised that this author is not kryptonite to movie financiers by now. Harding was also the co-author of 2011's WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, another tour de force of dreary cash-in publishing, which went on to be the basis for Dreamworks' catastrophic box-office failure: 2013's The Fifth Estate.
Harding's co-author on that book -- the self-styled former senior Guardian editor David Leigh -- is absent in The Snowden Files. This is good: In writing about his work with me on the WikiLeaks material, Leigh chose -- over my explicit warnings -- to print a confidential encryption password as a chapter heading, undoing eight months of our work (and of over a hundred other media organizations) and resulting in the dumping of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables onto the Internet without the selective redactions that had been carefully prepared for them.
In a Goebbelsian projection, Leigh and The Guardian promptly blamed me for this. Harding repeats the libel without irony in The Snowden Files.