The former deputy director of the National Security Agency has taken issue with Oliver Stone’s biopic of one-time NSA employee Edward Snowden.
Speaking to National Public Radio, Chris Inglis, who retired in 2014 after 28 years at the agency, said the film’s narrative “was a gross mischaracterisation of what NSA’s purposes are. And a gross exaggeration of Edward Snowden’s own particular role in that. To the point where you could come away from looking at that movie, saying, ‘Why are 50,000 people at the NSA dead wrong? And one is absolutely correct?’”
An NSA deputy director does feature in the film, played by Patrick Joseph Byrnes, and commissions Snowden to lead an important project in Hawaii.
Inglis says he and Snowden never met and such a scene is “preposterous for many reasons”. “That a deputy director would reach down to a contractor, who’s performing an important but relatively low-level function, and ask them to take on a Jason Bourne-like activity? It simply exceeds all propriety.”
Inglis told NPR he was concerned about what viewers would take from the film about the motives of the NSA and its employees, and expressed concern with its billing as “a dramatization of actual events”.
“Dramatization to me means you add the occasional exclamation point,” said Inglis. “You bring in a musician to perhaps add some background music. But you don’t tell a story that is fiction.”
Inglis pointed to a scene in which Snowden completes an aptitude test that usually takes five hours in 38 minutes.
“Clearly [he’s] a clever person. But NSA makes a habit of hiring smart people. Extremely smart people. Also principled people. So he was clearly the former; turns out he wasn’t the latter.”
The former deputy director does concede that Snowden’s own motive may not have been wholly self-serving, although it is unclear whether Stone’s film contributed to any reassessment.
“I do see him as a more nuanced character,” Inglis said. “Somewhere, there was an attempt or perhaps an intent on his part to do something noble.”
However, he cast scorn on Snowden’s own suggestion, when the first trailer was released in April, that “for two minutes and 39 seconds, everybody at NSA just stopped working”.
“I don’t think that’s true,” said Inglis. “I think Edward Snowden wants to be important. Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t want to matter?”
Snowden opened in the US a week and a half ago, to mixed reviews and slightly disappointing box office returns, taking $8m on its first weekend of release.