Opening 11 Jul 2013
Who is Julian Assange? Is he a cyber-Robin Hood stealing secrets from governments and giant corporations and giving it to the masses? Is he a cyber-terrorist? Or perhaps is he an arrogant hacker who in trying to change the world, allowed his organization to become eerily close to the very thing he was originally fighting against? And where does Bradley Manning, the whistleblower currently on trial for leaking the documents to Wikileaks, fit into to all of this? These are some of the questions addressed in the provocative documentary by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney. Through interviews with former Wikileaks colleagues, journalists and former US government officials, Gibney attempts to show the events that led to Julian Assange seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
It is important to note that the title of the documentary is actually a quote by Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, about how the United States government acquires its secrets. It is a statement about the questionable activities of the United States government, as an ironic point about how Wikileaks is just continuing the activities that US government officials claim to be official policy.
Gibney deftly uses news footage, chat room transcripts, and interviews to paint a vivid picture of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and the Wikileaks operation. Bradley Manning is shown to be a conflicted young man with issues ranging from gender identity while being in the US armed forces, to a moralistic reprehension against the top secret information he discovered through his security clearance. At first, Julian Assange and Wikileaks are presented as sympathetic and groundbreaking. However, as the documentary continues, Assange’s flippancy about journalistic ethics, his issues with the Swedish justice system and his ultimate paranoia about extradition to the USA lead to a different outlook.
Wikileaks has publicly responded to the content of the documentary on their website and has provided an annotated transcript of the film where they argue several points made by Gibney (see wikileaks.org). Some of Wikileaks’ arguments seem to be mere semantics, but others show the bias of several of Gibney’s sources. A few sources have been proven to be lying, and others claim to have their interviews unfairly edited. So while the documentary is compelling and extremely interesting, it is important that it is taken as an opinion piece that very-well may be deeply flawed, depending on the point of view. (Rose Finlay)