Academy-Award winning filmmaker appeared on “Democracy Now!” with host Amy Goodman to discuss his new documentary on WikiLeaks called “We Steal Secrets.” In Park City, Utah, where the film recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, he revealed some of the conclusions he draws in the film.
First, the title may owe itself to a quote from former CIA director Michael Hayden, who in the documentary says, “I’m going to be very candid, alright? We steal secrets. We steal other nations’ secrets. One cannot do that above board and be very successful for a very long period of time.” But there is something inherently disingenuous about naming one’s documentary about WikiLeaks something that involves the stealing of information if one thinks WikiLeaks has in any way performed a journalistic service by releasing previously classified documents.
Gibney discusses the benefit to global citizens of being able to read the Afghan War Logs and the US State Embassy Cables. He also outlines the powerful audio and footage in the “Collateral Murder” video WikiLeaks released of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. And he acknowledges that part of what becomes so clear with the people involved in the leaks is this severe problem of over-classification.
He appears to be sympathetic to the potential of WikiLeaks to bring truth or transparency to government, which makes me question Gibney’s artistic decision to name his film “We Steal Secrets” even more. It inappropriately casts WikiLeaks as a stealer of information, which is the conventional wisdom most Americans subscribe to and what the United States government wants US citizens to believe so it can pursue WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks staffers through a widespread criminal investigation that we know exists.
More significantly, Gibney seems to have drawn a conclusion on a link between Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier the military is prosecuting for allegedly providing classified information to WikiLeaks, and Assange. Here’s the exchange he had with Goodman on “Democracy Now!”:
AMY GOODMAN: And the link you see between Private Bradley Manning and Julian Assange? Of course, Private Bradley Manning accused of leaking all of these documents to WikiLeaks.
ALEX GIBNEY: Correct. And we don’t know. Julian Assange has always maintained that he doesn’t know, or he didn’t know, that these documents that came to him were given to him by Bradley Manning. The military has slowly been leaking chats between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, which indicate—and also Julian—Manning’s chats also indicate some familiarity. So—
AMY GOODMAN: But how do you know that they’re—if the military is leaking these, that they’re actually between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange? In fact, in the film, you put quotes around Julian Assange. I guess that’s what the chat does. How do you know that it’s Julian Assange?
ALEX GIBNEY: No, no, no. In Bradley Manning’s computer, we know—it was introduced as evidence. Now, I suppose you could say—we’ll see whether David Coombs challenges that evidence in court. But actually, David Coombs, who is Bradley Manning’s attorney, has already gone to the court, in a very unusual way, to say that they’re prepared to plead guilty to a number of more minor offenses having to do with taking data off classified networks and also leaking them to WikiLeaks. So, you know, I think what they discovered on Bradley Manning’s computer was that the address of these chats, you know, Manning had, in fact, in his address book, indicated that this one address, which is seen in the chats, was the address of Julian Assange. [emphasis added]
Gibney is referring to testimony or argument in hearings at Fort Meade, which I have been attending since they began to be held regularly back in December 2011.
This is the evidence Gibney is referring to, which I wrote about in the book I co-authored with The Nation‘s Greg Mitchell, Truth & Consequences: The US vs. Bradley Manning:
In the afternoon, [Mark Johnson of the Computer Crime Investigative Unit] resumed his testimony and immediately dropped a bombshell: he had found “chat logs” between a Jabber user account, “dawgnetwork,” associated with Manning and a Jabber user account, “pressassociation,” associated with Julian Assange. The account associated with Assange had once been associated with “Nathaniel Frank.” The chats had been deleted but were uncovered in unallocated space. They contained an exchange that mentioned an upload, probably of classified information, on March 5, 2010.
There were logs showing traffic between two computers. One IP address was associated with PeRiQuito AB (PRQ), a Swedish internet provider, and could be linked to WikiLeaks. The other address was associated with a computer that was in Manning’s aunt’s house.
[Johnson] described examining an external hard drive found in Manning’s living quarters. Of relevance to the case, he found a text file dated November 30, 2009, that had contact information for a “Mr. Julian Assange.” It said, “You can currently contact our investigator directly in Iceland,” and included a phone number.
From the exchange, it does not appear Gibney made this clear to viewers that the government is suggesting he used an account with a pseudonym to exchange messages with Manning. What he is concluding is there is, in fact, a link. Though the government has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Assange was using the account to talk to Manning, he’s accepted it as a fact on the mere basis that Manning is willing to plead guilty to lesser offenses where he accepts responsibility for transferring some of the information that WikiLeaks eventually released.
It is a leap to suggest the plea shows he did communicate with Assange and they can be linked. Manning may have communicated with a staffer who has prepared to accept the information he wanted to provide. Manning wanted to start worldwide discussion. Even Gibney concludes, from the chat logs between Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning thought he was engaging in a whistle-blowing act by allegedly passing on the information to WikiLeaks.
Here’s the clip of Gibney on “Democracy Now!”: