Alexa O'Brien: On November 29, 2010 and December 6, 2010 the U.S. Attorney General at the Department of Justice Eric Holder publicly confirmed an "active, ongoing criminal investigation" and grand jury probe of WikiLeaks.
Gibney's film becomes a farce when, having explained how the New York Times buckled under political pressure and launched a smear campaign against Assange, he fails to mention that the Guardian acted similarly, and that two of the journalists who appear in his film (James Ball and Nick Davies), were deeply involved in the UK propaganda campaign.
The cause of the propaganda is only partially explained. Gibney correctly states that it was used to separate WikiLeaks from the mainstream media (who were considered politically unassailable), in order to be able to attack WikiLeaks at will. Gibney also correctly states that the illegal financial blockade imposed against WikiLeaks was part of this campaign. What is missing is the link between the smear campaign and the hoped-for, and at that time imminently expected extradition of Assange from Sweden to the U.S. This is the single most important element of the WikiLeaks story from the moment Cablegate is published. However, Gibney can't include this link because, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, he does not believe in the WikiLeaks' Grand Jury. Gibney: "Assange claimed that the US was biding its time, waiting for him to go to Sweden, but there was no proof."
Shortly before the U.S. diplomatic cables were due to be released, Domscheit-Berg, for reasons yet to be proven, embarked upon the sabotage of WikiLeaks' servers and whistleblower submissions. In Gibney's film, Domscheit-Berg is allowed to shrug in disbelief at his dismissal from WikiLeaks, and feign confusion about Assange's treatment of him. The implication is that Assange is sabotaging WikiLeaks.
From there Gibney's unreality only increases: James Ball sits and smirks about the irony of WikiLeaks' non-disclosure agreement from a parallel universe where the Grand Jury, Thordarson and Domscheit-Berg, do not exist; Gibney then forgets that he was willing to pay $100,000 to interview Assange; and Nick Davies' word for word reinvention of his Guardian colleague's debunked claim that Assange said “if an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, he deserves to die” is allowed to stand unchallenged.
When Gibney's film finally arrives in Sweden, his dismissal of the Grand Jury (case number: 10GJ3793) allows complexity to be brushed aside in favour of a message delivered by Anna Ardin, one of Assange's accusers. It is that Assange should shelve his paranoia and obstinacy, and go to Sweden “to answer a few questions.”
The fact that the Swedish government is a signatory to the EU Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and that prosecutors can interview Assange by telephone or video link, and can, if needed, travel to London to conduct an interview in person, is omitted by Gibney.
Of course, upon arrival in Sweden “to answer a few questions”, Assange would be held incommunicado in a Swedish remand centre (an application for bail would be denied on flight risk grounds) and his ability to exercise his legal right to asylum would no longer exist. Assange would not be able to defend against extradition to the U.S. or to rally support. Regardless of whether the Stockholm allegations proceed or are dropped, or whether the case continues to trial, is won or lost; once held in a remand prison, Assange would be vulnerable to a U.S. indictment and a one-way flight - just like everyone else Sweden has renditioned - to the U.S.
Gibney simply dismisses these concerns as self-delusion.
This is a photo of Ardin posted by her on Twitter in the weeks following her interview with Gibney:
A photo of Assange posted by himself at around the same time of Ardin's tweets:
Bradley Manning: “because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
Journalists have launched Twitter campaigns against Assange with prominent politicians conducting their own campaigns in tandem. In the arena of social media, the hostile press coverage is augmented by the use of dedicated troll accounts which continuously attack Assange and WikiLeaks.
Gibney touches upon an information war, but having selected just one side of it, he abruptly drops it. Gibney's repetitive omission of information that could rebalance this war indicates that he has chosen sides.
The Stockholm story, from its start to whenever it will finish, is a complex business. But Gibney's solution to one of the most challenging parts of his documentary was to reach for a wig and start redacting.
To mislead his audience into believing a false narrative of events becomes, by the end of the film, genuinely heartbreaking in the context of the story he is telling:
The Tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet 2011-04-24 "Assange is a creep" says Jan Guillou.
THE EGOIST Julian Assange puts a lot of money to free himself from allegations of rape – but he doesn’t lift a finger when Bradley Manning, Wikileaks claimed source, is tortured in arrest and is risking lifetime in jail, writes Jan Guillou.
During a We Steal Secrets preview screening at the Frontline Club, Gibney's Q & A fielded a question from Jeanne Whalen (a Wall Street Journal reporter) on Gibney's opinion of WikiLeaks' role in helping Edward Snowden. In reply, Gibney referenced a Wall Street Journal article (written by Whalen) and then said “I fear that the WikiLeaks involvement in [the Snowden] case may end up not being good for WikiLeaks and not being good for Edward Snowden. It appears that actually President Correa did not properly authorise [Snowden] to have conduct through Moscow to Ecuador. And so, he may be stuck in Moscow now, or the transit area of Moscow for some time. But I don't know any more than what I've read in the Wall Street Journal or the newspapers, because I'm not an insider on that story.”
Jeanne Whalen's article, which was published the day before the Frontline Club previewing, misses the heart of the story: that an emergency had occurred in Hong Kong:
Even the fact that a part-time WikiLeaks' volunteer, Sigurdur Thordarson, was a paid FBI informer, who handed over 8 WikiLeaks hard-drives and 2,000 pages of chat logs is apparently inconsequential to Gibney. Which is strange considering the film's "[Assange's] international organization had blown apart" theme. It seems Gibney had other priorities and being a Grand Jury-truther in service of extradition trumped Thordarson.
Of course, the 'death of WikiLeaks' theme is an inversion, the actual story is how WikiLeaks, despite everything thrown at it, still exists. Gibney can say that it is dead and James Ball can write that, day after day into eternity, but it does not change a thing.
Domscheit-Berg is a part of this survival story. He had been eased out of WikiLeaks' inner group after the release of the Collateral Murder video and was asked to be WikiLeaks' spokesperson in Germany.
Gibney's tabloidism includes an emotive image of the Swedish police's forensic report on a 'torn' condom, but it does not include mentioning that the condom was submitted as evidence by Ardin 12 days after the alleged incident; that it was examined by two forensic laboratories and was found to contain absolutely no chromosomal DNA fragments from either herself or Assange:
An interesting point about vilification that passes Alex Gibney by is that his depiction of Assange is identical to the establishment media's saturation depiction:
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa: “Look, the consul (Fidel Narvaez) and he (Assange) are in the embassy, he’s a friend of the consul. [Assange] calls the consul at 4 in the morning saying they’re going to capture Snowden, the other one is distraught, how do we save the life of this man, and so on. So Assange finds out. But yes, I think that that was a mistaken action by Assange but it does not diminish in the slightest the respect that we have for Mr Assange and his asylum status and he is under the protection of the Ecuadorean state.”
The reason Whalen misses the story is because the interview which contains it had not yet happened. When Whalen returns to unfolding events two days later, with the added detail from Correa's interview with the Guardian's Rory Carroll, she does not explore what Correa described as a “crisis”; the cause of the flight from Hong Kong. She does not ask: how did WikiLeaks know Snowden was in danger? What was the danger? What had changed? Why was it imminent? Whalen is not interested, she instead researches and writes about Ecuador's London consul Fidel Narvaez's alleged friendship with Assange – which is of little interest to anyone, especially when everyone reading her article wants to know about who, how and why.
When Gibney talks about Snowden at the the Frontline Club, he doesn't “know any more, than what I read in the Wall Street Journal” and even when the Wall Street Journal knows more, and could find out more based on what it has learnt, it instead buries the issues of interest in its own pages.
Will Gibney, when prompted by journalists to talk about their own stories at his Q & A, in order to suggest that WikiLeaks' assistance to Snowden might not have been a good idea, mention that WikiLeaks and Sarah Harrison may well have kept Snowden free? That Harrison created time, which gave the countries now offering Snowden asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua) the opportunity to consolidate their resistance to U.S. pressure. Or will he talk about Fidel Narvaez's alleged friendship with Julian Assange?
The story of Alex Gibney's We Steal Secrets is two-fold. He does not “know any more, than what I read in the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers” and he also does not know “because I'm not an insider on that story.”
We Steal Secrets is what Gibney read in the Guardian's propaganda campaign. Gibney: “[It was] practically scripted by [the Guardian's David] Leigh”. His film was always going to be this. It was always going to conform to the media's systemic bias. If it wasn't, it wouldn't have been made.
On this mundane truth, Gibney was not going to get to be an “insider”. No one from WikiLeaks and no one from like-minded organisations would speak to him:
“On September 30, 2011, we met Alexis and a Jigsaw videographer at Zuccotti Park, stated that we had read accounts in lawsuits about Gibney’s biased treatment of targets - flattering them to take part in interviews then betraying their trust with attacks of highly selective quotes and clips for maximum drama and entertainment. Based on that, we said we wanted nothing more to do with Jigsaw, that Gibney was a double-crossing son of a bitch like most documentarians and journalists.” John and Deborah of Cryptome.
Everyone formally associated with WikiLeaks that took part in We Steal Secrets, with the exception of Domscheit-Berg and James Ball, now regrets their cooperation.
The difference between We Steal Secrets and Gibney's previous films is that WikiLeaks is an ongoing story which retains the political weight first encountered during the publication of the Afghan war logs.
WikiLeaks' Sarah Harrison, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden & Human Rights Watch's Tanya Lokshina, at Moscow airport.
In every other story Gibney has covered, the story has ended and he is documenting a version of what has happened. Imagine Gibney arriving at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq or Bagram Internment Facility, Afghanistan during the torture and abuse. Would Comcast's Universal have greenlit that project? And, if so, what version of events would it have constructed?
Gibney has stated that 'Taxi to the Dark Side' (2008) was financed by “a guy who was on a panel with me, a high net-worth attorney. It was in the contract that I had total creative freedom, and he was great about honoring that.” Taxi to the Dark Side's distribution company ThinkFilm sold the broadcast rights to the Discovery Channel, who planned never to broadcast it. Eventually HBO obtained the rights and aired it. Comcast would not have financed and distributed Taxi to the Dark Side in 2003 (during events), or in 2008 (three years after the court-martial of U.S. service personnel involved in the abuses had ended), they wouldn't even do it today. Comcast's only motive for financing 'We Steal Secrets' is to control a story that they, like the entirety of the U.S. establishment, fear.
Comcast might want WikiLeaks to have fallen, but it did not. They might wish that Manning did not have the courage and will to do what he did, but he did.
The propagandistic nature of We Steal Secrets is a description of America's fear of what WikiLeaks might do next: WikiLeaks and whistleblowers brave enough to act have the power to stop a war, to protect “the many” from the greed and insanity of “the few”, to “defend victims” by “crushing (the) bastards” who harmed them.
In another Orwellian inversion of reality, Gibney describes critical reviews and analysis of his film in these terms: “There’s nothing that caused me to think I made any factual errors in the film. The campaign against the film [hasn’t been] a debate, it was more of a disinformation campaign closer to something the CIA would [put together].” However, it is his film, that bears all the hallmarks of a CIA disinformation campaign, or for that matter, an FBI disinformation campaign.
The WikiLeaks annotated transcript of 'We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks'.
July 17, 2013
In Gibney's segment on the so-called 'Stockholm affair', Ardin appears on camera in disguise (to “hide her identity”) which does nothing conceal her identity, this is because it does not need to - Ardin's identity was revealed long ago in one of the many interviews she has given (beginning with the tabloid Aftonbladet the day after her police interview). The 'disguise' is pure sensationalism. Ironically, Assange's stay in Sweden was sensational, but Gibney is not willing to tell this story, and instead resorts to theatricality.
There are deeply troubling questions hanging over these events. In all other high profile cases of this type, the mainstream media would have investigated to sell newspapers and increase advertising revenue. But not in this case.
The film paints Assange's speculation that the Stockholm affair was a “smear campaign” as unfair and irresponsible. However, Assange only thought that there was 'something going on', because he had been warned that 'something' was imminent.
And while Ardin dismisses suspicions that she is linked to the CIA (via a series of events related to Cuba), speculation about her connections is not unreasonable: Phillip Knightley: "There's no direct evidence [that Ardin is a CIA agent]. She's someone they would consider an asset. I do not think she has been recruited for this mission but once she realized she was in this position, she might have known the right people to contact.”
Ardin then complains that she has been unfairly vilified by WikiLeaks supporters on Twitter. And while no one knows whether these supporters are genuine and not provocateurs, Ardin's own Twitter behaviour seems tailored to provoke: