The following is a response I received from Alex Gibney, director of the new documentary on WikiLeaks, “We Steal Secrets.” I have not added any comments to this response. It appears unedited as a kind of rebuttal to my review.
I will also take the time to note that, despite my strong criticisms, it is worth it to view the film. While it may inform the public of what exactly Gibney argues, claims and explores, no transcript of narration or interview segments can fully communicate how the stories of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are presented in the film. One has to see the clips, hear the music, watch how it all is edited, etc, to fully appreciate the power of this movie.
Thank you for your balanced review. While you would expect that I don’t agree with all of it (I don’t), I do respect the careful attention to detail that you have employed on this story. You have my admiration for the careful reporting that you have done over the last few years and my appreciation for taking the time to engage with my film seriously. Accordingly, I feel that it makes sense to send you a response.
1) It is true that Julian did not ask me for $1 million dollars. He asked me for money and then said (I took it as a point of negotiation) that the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million. I said exactly what happened. But the NY Times correction (which was done at my request but was inartfully phrased) should not be read to mean that Julian did not want to be paid a lot of money for an interview. He did. I’m sure we might have made a deal at, say $100,000. But I don’t pay for interviews.
Likewise, your interpretation of what happened next is incorrect. While Julian did ask me to seek out details of the criminal investigation, he asked me and my producer to give Julian “intel” on all the other interview subjects as a quid pro quo for his participation. By “intel” he meant details about their testimony and, in some cases, transcripts. That was a non-starter for me and I found it an “ironic” stance for someone who is supposed to be so interested in source protection.
2) RE: Sweden – You are correct that the purpose of the section was to show that the allegations leveled at Assange were not “ridiculous,” which is how they were being treated by Assange. You mention the condom and dna. There is some doubt as to what condom is pictured on screen, so it seemed pointless to add detail about dna. Only some of the testimony and evidence has been leaked. There is much to come. Perhaps the Swedish courts will find him innocent of all charges. My point was only to show that there is sufficient “cause” for legal proceedings—that it wasn’t a joke. The British courts agreed: they stated twice that if the allegations were proven, they would be crimes in the UK as well as Sweden.
Mr. Fowler’s account of events is incorrect. Alexa O’Brien recently published a British court timeline – on which Wiki and Sweden agree! – that makes the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and failure to appear look even worse. You are also wrong about the process of “interviewing” Assange. (For a complete recitation of this, I refer you to my piece in the New Statesman responding to John Pilger.) The Swedish prosecutor is prepared to charge Assange but cannot do so unless he is “arrested,” which must happen in Sweden. The only questioning that the Swedish prosecutor needs to do is to give Assange the opportunity to provide information which would prevent her from arresting him, which she clearly plans to do (if he ever goes to Sweden.)
The suggestion re: the motivation for JA possibly wanting to make women pregnant against their will is not “wildly lunatic.” If a Swedish prosecutor is alleging that Assange may have tried to make the women pregnant against their will (the basis of a possible charge) is it not relevant to understand his past practices?
3) Manning and Assange. You indicate that I asserted that Manning definitively spoke to Assange. But I did not. The film clearly states that the address was listed under Assange in Manning’s computer. Manning certainly thought he was talking to Assange. But the film does not state that as a fact.
4) I feel that your final conclusions about the film are unfair. The film makes the importance of the issues of transparency, secrecy and surveillance very clear. It is also very clear about Manning’s political motivations. It is also untrue to say that I dumped on Assange because he did not give me an interview. That is just wrong.
As many reviewers have noticed, Assange is cast in a very good light for most of the film.I do think that it is important to reckon with people as human beings rather than as political caricatures. In the case of Manning, in particular, his flaws and his great strengths – in other words his humanity – make his actions all the more powerful. You may feel free to criticize me for recognizing and celebrating his humanity. I am not sorry. Manning is a hero in this film precisely because – through his own words – we know him, not as a propaganda poster, but as a poignant, flawed and inspiring human being.
PS – You may have noticed that WikiLeaks has “leaked” an annotated transcript of the film. Sadly, what is missing from the transcript are ALL of Bradley Manning’s words. That could be the result of malicious editing. More likely, a WL supporter made a bootleg audio recording of the film. That audio recording would not have picked up Manning’s words since, as you know, his words are printed on-screen. But WL could not admit this because then WL would not get credit for a mighty hack, only a low-tech recording. Sad.