Citizenfour: Edward Snowden and the felt sense

citizenfourLast night I saw the documentary Citizenfour. I think everyone should see it. Despite Variety’s catchy comparison to Psycho, it is a quiet, thoughtful, inspiring film about real people.

It is mostly about the 8 days in which former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden met for the first time with journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in a hotel room in Hong Kong. He had contacted them via encrypted emails in January 2013 because he was looking for the best way to tell the American public about the data on all of us that he had as a NSA contractor.

We also get to know William Binney, a mathematician/cryptologist who devised a lot of the data-intercepting methods that are used today by the government. Binney had expected that his inventions would be used in a way that was consistent with the US constitution, but saw that after 9/11, data intercepting systems were used to track everyone, indiscriminately. He resigned on October 31, 2001 after 30 years with the NSA. Binney was interrogated by the FBI after contributing to a 2005 New York Times exposé on warrentless eavesdropping. In July 2007, his home office was raided by the FBI, guns drawn. They confiscated his computer, discs and personal and business records. The film also records various congressional hearings and court cases in which the issue of government surveillance was brought up and flatly denied by NSA officials or deflected by them.

So Snowden knew that he had to set up his revelations very carefully. Instead of the rogue Wikilieaks style, Snowden chose to turn his information over to journalists whom he trusted would not sensationalize the issue and “make it about him”, but would open the subject for public debate.

When they met for the first time in Snowden’s hotel room in June 2013, Poitras asked if she could film their interaction.  We see the first uneasy meeting, and we observe Snowden as he deals quietly and poignantly with having left his girlfriend, his job, contact with his family, and stepped out into an action space where he did not know what would happen next.

First Greenwald’s initial article was published in the Guardian, then Poitras’s article was published in the Washington Post –about how Verizon was turning over all client records to the NSA. The next day, Snowden followed his plan of revealing his identity, so that people would know that these revelations were coming from a concerned citizen and not from some unpredictable rogue entity.

After he has revealed his identity (but not his whereabouts) there is a moment in the film where Snowden expresses his felt sense of the situation. He says something like “I feel strange…..it’s hard to put into words….It’s scary, but I feel GOOD…..There is something liberating about being finally able to act, then act again.”

This is why I teach Focusing and Thinking at the Edge. Not all of us have Edward Snowden’s courage and commitment to act on our felt senses. Not all of us let our felt sense be known to ourselves, let alone anyone else. But in this moment, we can see the simplicity and the clear direction that happens when we give expression to implicit knowing. There is something inside that feels right.

Snowden paid attention to the sense of incongruity between his work and everything he had learned as an American citizen.  He also used his cognitive ability to set up his revelations in the most protected and responsible way he could, even though it led him to a place that felt like stepping off a cliff.

As a species, we need to develop and trust this innately human felt sensing capacity. We all have it, if we learn how to pay attention to it. Felt sensing can never be done by computers. It is not based on “the numbers” of probability. The felt sense gives us access to the whole of our situation, in all its implications, so that we can act as human beings, and act again.

My data can be tracked easily on the internet. But this same internet allows me to connect with you. And to have intimate, life-changing interactions with people in India and El Salvador. Something tells me that we have not fully grasped the implications of this ability to connect with each other. It feels more powerful than governments. As long as we pay attention to what makes us human, we can use this to go way beyond the probabilities.

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