sat 20/07/2024

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks | reviews, news & interviews

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Heroism and self-destruction collide in a revealing look at Julian Assange

Most wanted: Julian Assange in the spotlight

The story you think you know slides beneath your feet in this rigorous investigation of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. “I’m a combative person," WikiLeaks’ founder says, setting out his motives. "I like crushing bastards.” Director Alex Gibney’s intentions are more nuanced.

An Oscar-winner for Taxi to the Dark Side’s exposé of US abuses in Baghdad, he has similarly probed the poisonous roots of banking (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) and the paedophile-protecting Catholic church (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God). Gibney’s restless filmography also includes the unsparing humanisation of Hunter S. Thompson in Gonzo and reconstruction of Ken Kesey’s finest hour in Magic Trip.

We Steal Secrets meshes the latter films’ realistic re-evaluation of counter-culture heroes with the formers’ investigation of institutional abuses. Assange stands blurred at the boundary, a dashing anti-hero warped by his own exposés of the state. Refusing to cooperate with Gibney, the Ecuadorian Embassy’s most notorious tenant still steps into an unflattering, forensic light.

We see him in the early days of WikiLeaks, lecturing in Reykjavik with a hunched-over, diffident, perhaps seductive air. There’s an earlier photo of Assange as a dreadlocked teenage super-hacker in Melbourne, the subject of Robert Connolly’s more admiring biopic Underground. Later snaps of Rock Star Julian chomping a cigar, with an expensive suit, mirror shades and stubble show how swiftly hubris intervened.

Gibney makes sure the bigger picture of the unaccountable state Assange helped expose stays in the frame, showing the footage of a US helicopter crew carelessly mowing down civilians in Iraq which brought WikiLeaks to the world’s attention. The problem in canonising Assange for this is that the moral perspective he works with is as naive as George W. Bush’s. The “ultimate digital man” is, says a disappointed former ally, “unsullied by the limitations of human nature”. The Guardian’s reporter Nick Davies (pictured above right with Assange), who worked with him on the first mass release of US files, recalls him saying, as possibly fatal consequences to individuals were wrestled with: “If an Afghan civilian helps the occupying forces, they deserve to die.” The disgraceful baying for his own murder on US TV is a mirror image.

The final straw for another British journalistic supporter, James Ball, wasn’t the sex charges in Sweden but, he alleges, Assange’s wilful public conflation of them with US charges which have never materialised. His flawed personality has dragged WikiLeaks’ mission down. The driven David who took on Goliath with little more than a laptop fractured in the media’s glare.

Gibney is more interested in Private Bradley Manning (pictured left), the whistleblower who handed WikiLeaks that mass of files. This sexually-torn, soda-addicted, twitching Army misfit lip-synced to Lady Gaga while uploading its secrets, and has since been tortured, Guantanamo-style. He’s a classic bullyable victim, brought down by his addiction to the false confessional space of the internet chat room, where he tells Adrian Lamo, the blogging Judas who betrays him: “I am a lost soul.” This thriller-paced film finds its visual language in the digital realm where typed, spied-on secrets have infected all our realities. It’s several cautionary tales at once.

Watch the trailer of We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Sexually torn, soda-addicted Army misfit Bradley Manning lip-synced to Lady Gaga while uploading its secrets


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Alex Gibney tells lies about the Swedish case in this film, and it's very easy to spot that for anyone who has been paying attention over the last three years. Gibney uses evidence from the police file - a photo of a torn, supposedly "used", condom handed in by the woman he interviews, but then chooses not to tell his audience that literally 2 pages away that same forensics file says the scientists could find no trace of DNA on it, no male DNA, no female DNA. That is clearly Alex Gibney lying to his audience in order to frame Assange, who he seems to harbour a deep, personal grudge for. People should read the annotated film script that Wikileaks released, which corrects a lot of the inaccuracies in notes down the side: Also, read this. It contains that evidence file from the Swedish case Alex Gibney wanted to obscure. It shows that the Swedish case should have been closed on 25 October 2010. Want to know why I can be so precise about that date? Read on. Teaser fact: Assange accuser SW was re-interrogated by police seven times after her initial statement, including the day after the police received back the forensics report.

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