When political right and opinion are challenged by the threat of political crime, how far (and to what extent) is one willing to deviate? Edward Snowden’s tearing off the lid on classified intelligence, has ushered in a new era of whistleblowers fully capable of answering such difficult questions.
Add to the fact that when watching We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks — a new documentary by Alex Gibney — one cannot help but feel emboldened by the ideology of a free and transparent world; I too, must admit to being persuaded by the global narrative against Orwellian surveillance.
At first glance, Gibney’s technique seems simple enough. Begin by laying out details of the inception, progression and subsequent regression of WikiLeaks — a website conceived by hacker-turned-activist, Julian Assange. Next, allow events to unfold against the central portrait of a psychologically intriguing man wanted by authorities for publishing Afghan war logs and videos of US soldiers killing civilians. Third, pit Assange against interviews with Michael Hayden, a former CIA and NSA director. And finally, allow the fictive dynamic of arguments from both sides to trade blows. But further into the film, Gibney’s formula evolves with a compelling turn when Pfc. Bradley Manning occupies center stage. This is especially true for anyone hearkened to this documentary’s depiction of circumstances leading to the soldier’s arrest, and charges heaped upon his trial. It is here — when the histories of Assange and Manning collide — that unexpected synchronicity between two very different people take flight.
The scariest irony and moral decay, is the kind that overrides, perhaps even willing to exploit virtues being championed in the first place. Did Julian Assange, a clever and sophisticated symbol of freedom, betray anything in exchange for self-preservation? What about Manning, is he merely a pawn being sacrificed on the maxim of Greater Good? Is it even worth agonizing over yet another quibble, between deontologists and the utilitarians? The list of inquiry is endless, in particular the ramifications for anyone both driving, and consuming unbridled information floating across vast oceans of network.
In the chats, Manning sent a link to Pale Blue Dot – a famous photo of Earth he saw while reading an essay by the astronomer Carl Sagan.
“That’s home,” said Sagan, “that’s us – every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there; on a mote of dust, suspended on a sunbeam. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.”
As the final chat log belonging to Manning appears over a landscape of mysterious star field, things conclude to aesthetic and philosophical arrest. Abney has unwittingly crafted, by far, the most relevant question bystanders must urge themselves to address.