(George Packer’s article appeared in the 10/20 New Yorker.)
From the garden terrace of a sixth-floor walkup on a quiet Berlin street, there was a clear view to the TV Tower, in Alexanderplatz. The tower, completed by the East Germans in 1969, once served as the biggest symbol of a regime that maintained its power by spying relentlessly on its citizens. It’s now a piece of harmless Cold War kitsch—a soaring concrete column with a shiny top resembling a disco ball. On the front door of the apartment somebody had affixed a sticker that mimicked the visual style of the “Hope” campaign poster for Barack Obama, with the words “Ein Bett für Snowden” (“A Bed for Snowden”) next to the face of the world’s most famous fugitive. The sticker was part of a movement advocating that Edward Snowden, who is living in exile in Russia, be given political asylum in Germany. The apartment’s interior had been turned into a film studio, where Laura Poitras—the maker of documentaries who, last year, helped Snowden leak documents exposing the fact that the National Security Agency collects huge amounts of data on United States citizens—was in the final days of a three-year project about surveillance in America.