Comments now enabled — FYWP!
The new review at Mother Jones reminded me I’m looking forward to seeing this, once it goes “on demand”. NYMag‘s movie reviewer, David Edelstein:
Before I saw Alex Gibney’s documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, I figured Gibney would be kicking the same government hornet’s nest already inflamed by his protagonist, Julian Assange—or some other nest, there being so many hornets and soul-sucking ghouls and dark subterranean forces in this and the last presidential administration that we’re practically living in Harry Potter World. But Gibney ended up following his story into other, even weirder areas. He comes to view the whistle-blowers, the cyberguerrillas in the war against all forms of secrecy, from a sort of psycho-anthropological perspective: Here, he says, is how the culture created them. And here’s how it destroys them. By the time this twisty, probing, altogether enthralling movie hits its final notes, the crimes against the Constitution and humanity have been upstaged by personal demons. Which is our woe as well….
Do you know all this? Much of the material is out there, but Gibney has a talent for creating a one-stop shop for anyone who wants to experience the full scope of this ugly, scary story. It’s not just Assange’s colleagues who talk. A few ex-CIA and Defense Department officials appear surprisingly sympathetic to the abstract idea that there are too many secrets. But what to do about that? We Steal Secrets is a documentary with the overflowing texture of fiction. It’s The Hacker’s Tragedy.
Foreign Policy‘s Joshua Keating, last week:
… Gibney, an Academy Award-winning director who has previously turned his critical camera on the U.S. detention policy in Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron in The Smartest Guys in the Room, and the Catholic Church in Mea Maxima Culpa clearly has little sympathy for the institutions targeted by WikiLeaks or their claims for the right to confidentiality, but the film also makes a convincing case that the hubris and paranoia of Assange has done irreparable harm to the cause of transparency, echoing an argument made by many former WikiLeaks collaborators.
A few days ago, I had the chance to speak with Gibney by phone. An edited transcript…:
How did your opinion about WikiLeaks change during the making of this film?
I certainly changed my opinion of Assange, and I just my thinking about what was important about this mechanism, this electronic dropbox, which I thought was so important. I now think the publishing mechanism of WikiLeaks is what’s terribly important. My mind also changed about Bradley Manning.
But in terms of the larger issues about transparency and classification, not so much.
How did your views on Manning change?
I think he was caricatured by the military as someone who was going through a lot of personal problems and just dumped these documents in order to vent his rage over his own personal problems. The more digging we did, I found that to be a terribly unfair characterization. He certainly was going through a personal crisis. But I think he also had his own political consciousness and was disturbed by some of the things he was seeing. He may have been naïve about the ultimate use to which his leaks might be put, but I think a key part of his motivations were the motivations of a whistleblower even if he didn’t behave like a traditional whistleblower.
The title of the film, We Steal Secrets, is a pretty accurate description of what WikiLeaks does, but it’s actually a line spoken by [former CIA director] Michael Hayden to justify some of the activities of the U.S. diplomats in the cables. Is that mean to suggest that there are similarities between the ways that WikiLeaks and the U.S. government operate?
It was intended to put what WikiLeaks does in context. If the head of the CIA is looking you right in the eye and says “Let me be candid, we steal secrets. That’s what we do,” and he’s saying we do that to protect our citizens, okay, we accept that. But then there are times when leaking secrets protects us all also. It was a way of, with a bit of irony, trying to put this whole idea of stealing and leaking secrets in a larger context. It’s not so simple. Sometimes secrets are improperly kept and overclassified and leaking them can be a valuable thing, just as stealing secrets from foreign governments or terrorist organizations might be a way of protecting the public.
But there was also a suggestion made by several of Assange’s former associates in the film that he has begun to act more like the very organizations he opposes. Do you agree with that?
I think that’s true. I’m sorry to say he started to behave more like a CIA agent than he would like to admit…