Alex Gibney

“We Steal Secrets” filmmaker Alex Gibney (via Pamhule/Flickr)

This is the first in a series of fact-checks on We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks by Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney. It is the “first” of my fact-checks because there are so many distortions and inaccuracies in this film, it is difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, the title itself provides a good place to start.

I’ve run the title by numerous people with divergent views on WikiLeaks. None of them have seen the film. All of them said that the title alone means that WikiLeaks steals secrets. Universally, people will draw this conclusion from the title because the logical consequence here is the implication. The title is a material consequence, a single statement formed from the logical connection of two different phrases. The two phrasings are taken as logically equivalent, which serves a truth function that Gibney wants the audience to believe.

The fact of the matter is that WikiLeaks does not steal secrets. As it makes clear on its website, like “other media outlets conducting investigative journalism, we accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information.” The “We Steal Secrets” line is actually from former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden, who the movie presents as a pillar of transparency even though he is the father of warrantless wiretapping (secret surveillance of U.S citizens), one of the biggest scandals of the Bush administration.

By implying that WikiLeaks is a lawbreaker and not a publisher, it fits the film’s narrative of putting WikiLeaks in some “other” category than a bonafide media outlet—a position taken by the mainstream media.,The mainstream media, despite profiting from publishing substantial WikiLeaks content, has tried strenuously to differentiate itself from, and as better than, WikiLeaks because it is “more selective” and “fact-checks its content”—two persistent myths created and propogated by the mainstream media because 1) WikiLeaks scooped them 2) the New York Times and Washington Post apparently blew it because, as Pfc. Bradley Manning testified recently, he approached them before going to WikiLeaks and 3) the mainstream media, while trying to delegitimize WikiLeaks, was forced to reprint much of the WikiLeaks material because of its newsworthiness.

Interestingly, in the Manning case, the government has taken the position that it sees WikiLeaks and the mainstream media as one and the same. If one accepts the logical sleight of hand in Gibney’s misleading title, therefore, all media (print, radio, television, online, etc.) steal secrets, including this film.

More information can be found in the annotated WikiLeaks transcript, here:

Jesselyn Radack is the National Security & Human Rights Director of the Government Accountability Project, a leading whistleblower organization, and a contributing editor at Firedoglake. She became a Department Of Justice whistleblower after disclosing the FBI had tortured John Walker Lindh (the “American Taliban”), and that later the DOJ had attempted to suppress information on his treatment.