We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

we steal secrets

  • Director Alex Gibney aims for balance in this documentary, and for the most part he achieves it. While he intimates that neither Wikileaks, Julian Assange nor the site’s biggest whistle blower, Bradley Manning, is likely to have caused harm to any individual or group, Gibney also leaves us puzzling over the possiblity that future leaks could prove so damaging. Just as he leaves us considering whether or not information needs to flow more freely than it does via mainstream media sources.
  • In that way, We Steal Secrets doesn’t comfort us, doesn’t make us feel confident or secure. It is unsettling and provocative as it asks and investigates questions without delivering clear answers.
  • I recommend this documentary without reservation.
  • But that doesn’t make the film flawless. While it is mostly balanced in its treatment of Wikileaks and institutions the site impacted, We Steal Secrets is not neutral in its evaluation of Julian Assange. Gibney paints Assange as a man with noble and commendable aspirations, but that’s the most positivity We Steal Secrets has to offer. Putting it more simply, Gibney’s portrayal of Assange is not flattering. The director leaves us to judge Wikileaks on our own, but he goes a long way toward telling us what to think about the site’s founder.
  • Similarly, Gibney firmly takes a side on the prosecution of Bradley Manning, painting the soldier as a confused but courageous informant who should have been commended, not psychologically tortured, held without trial for three years and now still facing the threat of prosecution for aiding unnamed enemies. In Gibney’s portrayal, Manning is the true victim of the Wikileaks saga, a victim persecuted for embarrassing the wrong people. To be sure, I’m not certain that there is a good counter argument to that statement; what has happened to Daniel Manning is easily the scariest part of this eerie real-life story, as far I’m concerned. All I’m saying is that Gibney makes no effort to present an argument that Manning’s imprisonment is just, a fact that seems odd to me, given the balance We Steal Secrets seeks.
  • Finally, Gibney’s artistic flourishes (i.e. the inclusion of a scene from War Games (1983), the sound of a gunshot meant to heighten the stakes, playing Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” etc) distract from the documentary’s serious tone. I wish the director had simply stuck to the facts.
  • None of that is to say We Steal Secrets is bad. It isn’t. Like I said, on balance this is a skillfully made documentary and is therefore worth viewing.
  • Final Grade: B-
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