Film review: We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks
One should declare one’s prejudices before commenting on matters that polarise opinion; I’m not a camp follower of Julian Assange. For mine, he is just another self-righteous showpony who, by accepting succour from a regime that denies journalists in its own country the freedom of speech that he claims to be champion of, has shown himself to be a supreme hypocrite and exploited fool.
Alex Gibney’s doco, which is neither hagiography nor hatchet job, did nothing to dissuade me of my view, but, if anything, it is more balanced than both Assange’s detractors and supporters would prefer. ‘Boys with toys’ is an expression formerly applied to the masters of war and their sophisticated [sic] weaponry – today, power has shifted to those who control information. It is still a bloke’s world, however, and as a supremo computer geek with matching ego, Assange quickly became a player of stunning, unforeseen significance. The phenomenon of WikiLeaks, from the high-minded if simplistic ideals of its inception to its undignified hubris, is charted here with clarity and with the unequivocal testament of all parties involved, on both sides of the fence.
Assange comes across as unnervingly amoral and not immune to the trappings of rock stardom, but the true hero, if we can use that cheapened word, is Bradley Manning, the American soldier who, as whistleblower, provided WikiLeaks with its most explosive data. An outsider obsessed with his sexuality, Manning’s weird story is intensely compelling for its humanity, as is Adrian Lamo’s, the confidant who dobbed him in.
The knee-jerk dismissal and vilification by the mob gathered below the balcony of Equador’s London embassy, like pilgrims at the Vatican, of the Swedish women who accused Assange of sexual assault bring to mind the ‘ditch the witch’ treatment meted out to our first female PM. What we allow to be done in the course of defending our freedom is as much a matter for public scrutiny as it is for personal reflection. This probing film is a welcome rebuttal of the foolish cult of the messiah.