WRITTEN BY: Alex Gibney
DIRECTED BY: Alex Gibney
STARRING: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo, Daniel Domscheit-Berg
RATING: 4 stars
There is a lot to like about We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. As a documentary, its 130-minute running time is far too long, but there is so much intriguing information. Much of what we see in the film are facts anyone who has followed the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks already knows, but it is still fascinating to hear the story from those involved in the rise and fall of such a controversial figure in recent history. It is a very thorough overview of an important piece of modern history. But, the most interesting part is actually less about Assange, and more to do with Bradley Manning who is allegedly responsible for the largest security breach in United States history.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks opens with writer/director Alex Gibney speculating that a young Assange was responsible for the WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers) virus that invaded NASA in 1989. The film then chronicles Assange’s rise including exposing corrupt banking in Iceland, government corruption in Kenya and toxic waste dumping. It is particularly interesting to see Assange's former deputy Daniel Domscheit-Berg talk about WikiLeaks. However, Assange himself refused to participate in the documentary. Instead, archive footage of his interviews, press conferences and media engagements were used, which are still effective in telling the story.
The film also explores how WikiLeaks began working with traditional media, including The Guardian and The New York Times, before canvassing allegations of sexual assault against Assange in Sweden, which he claims is a smear campaign possibly organised by the CIA. It also touches on how Assange came to be where he is now - in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Gibney has done well to show an idealistic Assange on a mission to keep governments and corporations honest. But he also explores the ethics of WikiLeaks and Assange's paranoia.
A large portion of the documentary focuses on Manning, an intelligent but sad man from Oklahoma struggling with his gender identity. He enlisted in the army to get a government-funded education but was targeted by other soldiers for being effeminate. As an intelligence analyst in Iraq, he became disillusioned and sought out WikiLeaks. He was eventually betrayed by fellow hacker Adrian Lamo, who gives an interview in the film. Manning is currently awaiting trial but the film suggests there is little evidence to support any claim that the information Manning leaked led to deaths or impacted missions. Instead, the film suggests it merely caused the US government embarrassment.
With any documentary, it is important to consider bias. But considering so much of this information is already public knowledge, the film actually does well to give the story some freshness and balance. It is sure to make viewers think more about the essence of what Manning, Assange, Domscheit-Berg and others were trying to do. In today's world where information is more widely available through the Internet, but terrorism remains a serious threat, governments are inevitably holding secrets, supposedly for the safety of the public. But how much is too much secrecy? That is the debate that this film encourages.