Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney
Cinematographer: Maryse Alberti
Producer: Alex Gibney, Marc Shmuger, and Alexis Bloom
by Jon Cvack
It was interesting to watch this documentary as the Trump Saga unravels and we further discover Wikileak’s role in hacking both the DNC and John Podesta’s emails. For a long while Julian Assange was a darling of the left and libertarian crowds, standing up to Big Business and Big Government, either individually, or the way they work together. In this case, Alex Gibney explores the release of Bradley Manning’s intel dump in which we learned of the gross abuses - arguably war crimes - by the American government throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; primarily the mass misrepresentation of civilian casualties and a disturbing video where a drone team takes out a group of terrorist suspects, celebrating their deaths which we later learn were civilians, with one man and his daughter killed who were simply trying to help the victims who were butchered without due process.
Alex Gibney is one of the best documentarians working today, earning a berth next to any of the cinema’s all time greats - Agnes Varda, Werner Herzog, and Errol Morris - and like any great documentarian, is able to explore a broad spectrum, ranging from politics to music history to the Stephen Bartman/Chicago Cubs incident with Catching Hell (2011).
We Steal Secrets follows the rise and close to the fall of Julian Assange. Wikileaks was founded with a group of rebellious hackers in 2008, serving as a destination for whistleblowers to dump their content anonymously. After Icelandic financial corruption and Swiss tax evasion joined the Manning dump, Julian Assange went into exile, wanted by numerous governments, eventually seeking asylum in Russia.Achieving international rock star-level recognition, he of course attracted some women, allegedly abusing their interest by demanding unprotected sex, with some saying it was based on his narcissistic and disturbing desire to spread his seed in as many countries as possible. Soon women come forward, accusing Assange of numerous forms of sexual assault, including rape.
While Wikileaks initially lambasted the accusations as a character assassination by world governments, in the #MeToo movement it seems important to give the accusers the benefit of the doubt (my general rule of thumb is while due process should always be honored, when more than one woman who’re in no way connected come forward with similar accusations it makes their accusations all the more credible). In the end, a mixture of the scandal and Assange’s arrogance leads many of Wikileak’s original team to quit the organization. In the end, Assange is stuck in Russia with few friends, leaving you to wonder if perhaps his limited alternatives might have played a role in dumping the DNC and Podesta emails. To speculate, it seems possible that what began as a noble cause was derailed when hubris entered the picture.
Of course, parallel to much of this story is the story of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and the path which led to her stealing the top secret information. Prior to Manning professing her gender fluidity, Manning expresses a profound sense of alienation to one of Wikileak’s co-founders who would eventually rat her out. What we see is typical of any teenage angst, in which an extraordinary mind combined with the military’s rigidity and lax computer security all adds to Manning carrying out the rebellious act. In the end, Obama would pardon her 35 year sentence, and - as of writing this - she’s running for Senate in Maryland (and failing to win).
It’s rare to see a documentary in which its content progresses and evolves long after its release, in which the ideas explored lead to consequences years later. I’m not sure it could use a sequel, but as a historical document - capturing a moment that would lead to extraordinary events later on - this one of the most prescient documentaries I’ve ever seen.
BELOW: Great interview with Alex Gibney
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