Review: We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is the new film by Alex Gibney, the established director/producer whose credits include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Freakanomics (2010), and the upcoming Lance Armstrong: The Road Back. The film documents the rise to fame (or infamy) of Julian Assange, poster-boy for the Wikileaks organisation, and his many international exploits over his career. Delving into his past as a computer hacker in Australia as a teenager, to his current whereabouts in the Ecuadorian embassy, the film packs a very large amount of information into its running time. As well as Assange, the film looks at Bradley Manning, the US Army soldier who leaked a huge amount of information to Wikileaks, and propelled the organisation to fame.
The film presents its information with little bias, and there are a number of interviewees from different political persuasions to give a number of opinions about the moral implications of what Manning and Assange are doing. Since the events that it covers span a number of years, the film works well as a refresher to remind the audience of all the various events that may have slipped from their memory over the intervening years. What is surprising (for me) is the chaotic nature of the organisation itself: cobbled together from volunteers in Iceland, Germany and the UK, Wikileaks is often Assange himself firing of emails and press released hastily put together the night before large revelations. Living out of a suitcase for a number of years, Assange comes across as a freedom-fighting nomad, albeit someone who has questionable moral justifications for his information releasing programme. He frequently seems disconnected from the reality the consequences his actions might have on real people in warzones; his argument that all information should ultimately be in the public domain makes him seem somewhat blinkered in his personal quest.
What I felt the film lacked was an overarching interview with Assange, which could have helped to put perspective on events in the past from the man directly involved with it, rather than from past associates and commentators, who all have their various biases. I also felt there was slightly too much focus on Manning’s backstory; although he is an important part in the Wikileaks story, and fighting his extreme punishment by the military is definitely just, is it really necessary to examine his private life in so much detail? Another criticism is that I felt there was not enough examination of the ramifications of the revelations of the leaks on a wider political and social scale; in its examination of the idolatry that amassed around Assange, the film is inadvertently propagating what it claims is a negative aspect of Assange’s fame, whereas it could have spent more time looking at the effects of Wikileaks on information sharing and government secrecy in the years since the leaks.
Ultimately, the film is very effective in bringing you up to speed with a huge number of important events that have occurred over the last few years, and in light of the recent scandals involving the secret keeping methods of government agencies across the world, now is an important time to take notice of the historical importance of Wikileaks.