Culture: Film

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

We Steal Secrets Julian Assange

Fiona Keating finds thats its not Julian Assange who fascinates in this documentary on government snooping, but neglected gay whistleblower Bradley Manning.

In the early days of the internet, I remember being told by a colleague that any information or emails I sent into cyberspace could easily be intercepted by others.

So it’s no surprise that governments and other agencies have been snooping around our so-called ‘private’ correspondence.

But what is shocking, and is clearly dealt with in We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks,is the mind-blowing scale. Every day, the U.S. government trawls the internet for e-mails, phone calls, and texts from private citizens at the rate of 60,000 per second.

This film needs to be seen by anyone who wants a terrifying peek behind the scenes of how governments behave – and behave atrociously.

The title, We Steal Secrets, comes from a candid admission made by Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA. The U.S. government is in the business of stealing secrets from other countries, he says.

But woe betide any citizen, concerned with how atrocities are being committed in the name national security, who wants to play the same game.

Enter Bradley Manning, a young intelligence analyst serving in Iraq who had access to millions of classified documents and allegedly sent them to WikiLeaks.

What this film does is bring Manning back into focus, rather than the rather dubious figure of Julian Assange. Everyone’s heard of Assange, editor of Wikileaks, but the American soldier has to a large extent fallen off our radar, and currently languishes in jail, awaiting trial for what could possibly be a 20-year-jail sentence.

Director Alex Gibney has called whistleblowers “alienated tormented souls”. Manning fits pretty well in this category. He has struggled with his sexuality, come out as gay, questioned his gender and experimented with dressing as a woman.

On top of this, Manning wrestled with his conscience over leaking sensitive military information, although he states he was careful about the kind of materials he leaked and that his motivations were those of a whistleblower.

Apparently, Julian Assange does not like We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, and I’m not surprised. Assange has condemned it as a hatchet job, starting with its name. “An unethical and biased title in the context of pending criminal trials,” WikiLeaks tweeted in January.

In the film, the platinum blond hacker comes across as a Messiah figure. He refused to take part in the film as he and Gibney couldn’t agree on terms or indeed the extortionate fee the Wikileaks editor was demanding.

Assange thinks he’s a hero, and to many he is. Without the Australian, we know a lot more about what is happening in Afghanistan, Syria or Guantanamo.

And then there are the sexual assault charges which Assange is facing in Sweden. This has polarized his supporters. Some are disturbed by the charges while others vilify the women involved in the so-called ‘honey trap’.

One of the most striking images is of Assange dancing away to Lady Gaga, the strobe lights tracking his staccato movements. It gives insight into how the hacker sees himself, a kind of hi-tech David Bowie/Jesus Christ hybrid.

You’ll come out of the film knowing much more about digital cloak-and-dagger spying, which is truly shocking, although it raises more questions than it answers.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks is on general release.

Words: Fiona Keating

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