Snowden is a top hacker, and moreover experienced with backing up massive amounts of data (he built Epic Shelter).

Yet when he copies the files from the NSA control center in Hawaii to a microSD card, he drag & drops them, resulting (erroneously for even the casual Windows user) in tens of copying dialogues that could be seen at any time and land him in jail.

Is there any reason for Snowden not to copy the files in a more covert manner? He could use the command line and the scene could still show some sort of progress indicator (and he could... just not minimize the window?). Was xcopy removed from those NSA machines? Is this just a necessary goof or plot hole?

  • 3
    I haven't seen the movie, but I wouldn't be surprised if Oliver Stone or some technical adviser decided to do the copying in this clunky way to show the audience what was happening. Your idea about a progress indicator is pretty good, but technical people maybe have then pointed out that xcopy doesn't display a progress indicator. – BrettFromLA Sep 27 '16 at 19:44
  • 1
    Snowden is far from a top hacker. He's a hack, that's for sure. But he was a sys admin or something else of the sort, he had access to files for reasons that are never clear. Anyway, the level of his hacking is dragging and dropping files. – user25738 Sep 27 '16 at 19:49
  • 1
    @SiXandSeven8ths: I'm talking about Snowden the character, who was portrayed as a genius, completing in 40 minutes a hacking aptitude task that took on the average 5 hours. – Dan Dascalescu Sep 27 '16 at 20:28
  • 2
    @BrettFromLA: he could've use some other command, and the progress could've been the dumping of filenames via some sort of --verbose option. This plot hole strikes me as rather crass, given that anyone with a Windows machine has probably copied multiple files from a USB stick or SD card, and saw that there's only one dialog, not 100 scattered all over the screen. – Dan Dascalescu Sep 27 '16 at 20:29
  • 6
    Its pretty common for Hollywood to completely miss the bar when trying to show what "real hackers" are like on the screen. – sanpaco Sep 27 '16 at 23:30

The realism of computer scenes is fairly lacking in Hollywood. There is no real life reason it would happen like portrayed on screen. The scene is dramatized, using artistic license, to help the general public. Like much of the film is, as you can read in any review https://theintercept.com/2016/09/16/new-film-tells-the-story-of-edward-snowden-here-are-the-surveillance-programs-he-helped-expose/

It's like the scene in Office Space. They hack the company's financial system... the scene involves them inserting a floppy and clicking a button. Then they comment that they thought it was pretty easy.


First reason he wants to be caught and leaves a trail for the agency to track his act as he admits it and doesn't want them to go after his colleagues. From the movie screenplay:

Ewen: How will they know what you did?

Snowden: Because I left a digital footprint in my logs. They'll eventually figure it out. I didn't want a manhunt. I know what they'd do to my colleagues...

Second its a movie, so for easy representation they showed it that way or why would they use windows version for an operating system when national security is involved.


As one of the comments pointed out, it was show the viewer that files were being copied and to add suspense.

If he did it with command line, not all viewers might understand what is going on if he were to open a prompt and use xcopy, robocopy or powershell. I don't remember the entire scene but I remember him attempting to copy files from one folder and the copy progress indicators pops up, as pointed out in the comments, this is unrealistic.

A better question is, aren't these computer being logged, so that they could stop the copying of classified documents?

In defense of the scene, suppose he were to use powershell, you can at least locally disable powershell scripts from executing on a machine, so that would be a dead end. If he were to use command line or he used a batch file, there is a chance something could go wrong, he would have to ensure that his command or script accommodates file spaces, foreign characters, files/folders stored in places he can't access right away(requires a login, for example) and directories and files that are locked.

A lot of work for copying to a USB drive. dragging-and-dropping is probably the easiest, but not necessarily the smart thing to do.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .