We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Sophie Monks Kaufman

a href="/film-works/alex-gibney-on-we-steal-secrets" target="_blank">Alex Gibney has a gift for illuminating murky and complex subjects. With a refined moral compass he blazes a path to the heart of stories undeterred if large institutions emerge as corrupt in the process. The Catholic Church got a good auditing in Mea Maxima Culpa, while greedy businessman were exposed in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. His Oscar winner Taxi to the Dark Side focused on the U.S.’s torture practices during recent wars.

In his latest, the focus falls on subjects with offshoots as spidery as the web itself, WikiLeaks and its international cowboy/ co-creator Julian Assange.

The appeal of WSS is both the exhaustive narrative detail provided on WikiLeaks and Gibney’s forensic ability to extricate the organisation’s activities from Assange’s while separate personal stories of individuals whose lives have been shaken along the way get chunks of the runtime too. U.S. soldier Bradley Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo’s issues snake out into intimate subjects like gender confusion, Asperger’s and betrayal yet are always fed back into the main muscular narrative. The structure is as comprehensive and multi-stranded as a well-sourced Wikipedia entry.

Assange has condemned WSS unseen as a hatchet job, but this is hardly surprising from a man who flies off the handle at anything approaching the mildest of criticism. Gibney gives the Australian’s politics and past a measured hearing. Picking up the Assange story when he was just a long-haired hacker with big ideas, the story respectfully mushrooms, incorporating an early hacking project in Mendax, to WikiLeaks’ formation and big break to Assange’s current prediciament: wanted in connection with a sexual assault investigation in Sweden. It’s all so very dramatic, a fact that will no doubt be milked in this year’s pending fictionalised Cumberbatch-as-Assange vehicle, The Fifth Estate, but here there is no sensationalism, just a selection of figures who have known the man offering some bemused perspectives.

James Ball who worked at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism makes for a refreshing and normal inside man – smart, questioning and with a grounded perspective on espionage escapades – he unleashes one helluva story about a night spent loose in London with a USB stick containing 390,000 U.S. military secrets.

One of the alleged assault victims also appears, in disguise to avoid more hate, her testimony launching a delicate assembly of facts and professional opinions. Gibney avoids brash judgments while showing, through footage of Assange devotees willing to do exactly that, the dark side of a mob championing a cultural figure throughout everything. 

With its many fascinating linked accounts, We Steal Secrets is a compelling and informative documentary. Essential for anyone interested in how the internet is moving power out of old establishment hands, it is also a human tale of the lives caught and still caught in this ongoing web of a story.

Follow Sophie on Twitter: @sopharsogood 

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