Monday 11 December 2017

Delving into the secret breaker's secrets

Man of mystery: Fugitive Julian Assange
Man of mystery: Fugitive Julian Assange

Paul Whitington

Film Review: We steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks (15A, limited release, 130 minutes) 3 STARS

Director: Alex Gibne Stars: Julian Assange, Michael Hayden, Ian Overton, Vaughan Smith

George Orwell believed that all weapons were either inherently democratic, or not. Gunpowder, for instance, had been robustly egalitarian, because any fool with half a brain could easily get his hands on enough to power up a musket, but the atom bomb could only be constructed by a handful of experts, and so was a weapon of the elite.

Weapons don't come much more democratic than the internet, and Julian Assange has shown that a skilled exponent can use it to bite the tails of superpowers.

Alex Gibney's interesting but sometimes meandering and unfocused film charts the Australian super-hacker's precipitous rise and meteoric fall with refreshing objectivity.

A computer programmer, Assange set up the website WikiLeaks in 2006 to provide a forum for corporate, political and military whistleblowers.

Assange hit the news in 2009, when his website got involved in leaking dirt on the collapsing Icelandic banks. But WikiLeaks was a minor player until Private Bradley Manning made contact with a hacker called Adrian Lamo and began leaking tens of thousands of damning files about America's comportment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US military files leaked en masse in 2010 by WikiLeaks and others made Assange an international superstar, a development that does not seem to have displeased him. But just as he was poised to establish himself as a latterday Danton, two women in Sweden accused him of forcing them to have sex without a condom.

Assange and his supporters claim that the Swedish arrest warrant is a Trojan horse orchestrated by the Americans, but former colleagues have accused the Australian of conflating his rape case and the WikiLeaks controversy in order to suit his own agenda.

Assange refused to participate in Gibney's worthy but overlong film, and as a consequence remains elusive, a iconoclastic hacker who insists on his lofty motivation but is curiously hard to like.

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