Film Review – We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Directed by: Alex Gibney

Starring: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Hero or terrorist? Depending on your point of view, you may label Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, one of these two. Since the website found worldwide notoriety after it posted thousands of confidential military documents, it has been up in the air as to whether the actions have been in the public’s interest or detrimental to American safety. Could this have been a reckless attempt by a truth-seeking techno geek to get fame, or was this a huge step forward in the digital age of sharing information, finally ensuring governmental transparency? After 130 minutes of We Steal Secrets, you may not have a firm answer, but you will be asking yourself where you stand on the issue.

Charting Assange’s hacking career from when he weasled his way into an American space launch in 1989 and wreaked havoc from his home in Melbourne, Australia, to the creation of his infamous website, that was set up to allow people to anonymously deposit super secret government information, and beyond. The website went relatively unnoticed until a troubled soldier Bradley Manning, who was dealing (poorly) with a gender identity crisis in isolated Iraq barracks, in 2010 began feeding documents proving military indiscretions. Footage of US soldiers gunning down suspected terrorists (who were journalists with long lense cameras that looked like weapons) and documents with unedited names were posted online, causing a wave of panic and rejoice, and opening a Pandora’s box of moral and ethical ambiguity.

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While working as a nice catch up for those that had not followed the saga of Manning’s subsequent arrest, Assange’s new-found infamy and curiously timed charges of rape forcing him to go in hiding, We Steal Secrets also offers a look into a pair of fascinatingly troubled and enigmatic characters and the moral whirlwind that they played major parts in. As Manning leaked the truth about his sexuality and his needs to live as a woman, he was leaking other truths, which could have put America’s safety and national security in jeopardy. As it turns out, Assange and Manning working together could have been one of the most powerful duos in history. Exploring the unusual relationship these two men, who never met, had based on a shared a passion for truth-telling, is what drives the narrative, giving an emotional edge to what could have been extremely dry proceedings.

With Assange housebound and his unreasonable interview demands preventing him from confirming or denying what is presented to us or to offer us first hand insight to his personality, and Manning in solitary lock up – We steal Secrets is missing two key talking heads, but this documentary pieces together enough information to get a sense of who they are and paints a compelling picture nonetheless. As noted in the end of the documentary, there have been no negative ramifications from the publishing of those documents, certainly none to the extent that the US government claimed or feared. So, did the ends justify the means? Have fun pondering that one.

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