Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney stopped by NOW with Alex Wagner Wednesday to discuss his new film “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” as well as the latest revelations about the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing of Associated Press phone records.
The interview and discussion was conducted in two parts. (The other part of the interview can be seen Here).
Gibney addressed the film’s central figure—WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—and the massive leaks of information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which catapulted him into the media spotlight in 2010. The film also spends a good deal of time focusing on U.S. soldier Bradley Manning—the alleged source of the leaks. The film portrays Manning, an army intelligence officer who becomes troubled by some of the sensitive information he is privy to in a more sympathetic light than Assange, whose personal troubles and paranoia may have eventually interfered with his organization’s free speech advocacy.
“When the Afghan War logs and Iraq War logs were released, suddenly there was a transformation about these wars and what had been hidden from us,” Gibney told the panel. “That’s where the focus should have been and unfortunately too much of the focus shifted to Assange—I think, in part, because the administration wanted to shift the focus and that’s how they’re dealing with Bradley Manning too. They’re looking for a way to scapegoat Manning and say ‘this guy is the problem.’
The film also explores Assange’s anti-secrecy crusade and how, in response to the leaks in 2010, the U.S. government waged an information offensive of its own against Assange. American authorities argued that the leaked documents had put U.S. troops’ lives at risk and that Assange had “blood on his hands,” a charge Gibney says distracted media attention away from the grisly contents of the documents themselves.
Gibney also responded to the suggestion that President Obama’s administration has been far more secretive than its predecessors and has left many on the left concerned by its aggressive pursuit of whistleblowers. The filmmaker acknowledges that all presidents inevitably have to strike a fine balance between keeping the country safe and protecting the First Amendment.
“Look, I think he is in a tough spot,” Gibney said. “All presidents are in a tough spot, it’s not an easy job, but that doesn’t mean anybody should stop talking about this tension and it’s a natural tension in a democracy between national security and the need to know certain things. The distressing thing about the Obama administration though is that he’s great at talking the talk but really he hasn’t been so good on walking the walk on civil liberties and things like closing Guantanamo.”
Some of Gibney’s other films include: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) and Client 9: The Rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer (2011).