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Tom Tangney

'We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks' director on what's supposed to be the truth

Long before Edward Snowden captured the headlines with his NSA leaks, there was Private Bradley Manning and Wikileaks.

A new documentary called "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" opens this week.

"He's a very interesting character. He's a guy that's super smart, he's very good with computers the Army desperately needs him even though he's not "Army material." But he also has a growing degree of political consciousness. He's smart, and he's seeing things in materials that he thinks are just dead wrong. So over time he decides that this is stuff that must be known," says "We Steal Secrets" director Alex Gibney.

Gibney could easily be describing NSA leaker Edward Snowden but he's actually talking about Bradley Manning, the man responsible for the biggest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.

Manning was a soldier stationed in Baghdad in 2010 when he posted hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the Wikileaks website.

"Bradley Manning, for a long time, was the missing character in this story. Everybody knew about Julian Assange, everybody knew about Wikileaks, we called them the Wikileaks cables but this famous video of the helicopter gun-ship killing two Reuters reporters, the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Logs and the State Department cables - all these come from one person: Bradley Manning. He's admitted that now."

Manning is currently being court-martial on federal espionage charges.

"We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" examines the curious case of Private Manning and his twisty relationship with controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

"There is a lot about Julian to be admired. He's got brass balls and think his instincts are all right. At least they were in the beginning - in the sense that he wanted to hold corporations and governments to account and felt that there were too many secrets. Those secrets needed to be revealed: Leak the secrets, all would be well."

Gibney admits he started out somewhat sympathetic to Assange's goals with Wikileaks. He also suspected the sex charges against him in Sweden were trumped up by unhappy governments. Making this film changed his mind about Assange.

"The problem here is that Wikileaks is supposed to be about the truth. And I think what happened here, is that for his personal benefit, for a while it made him much more famous. Instead of accepting responsibility and being willing to be held to account which is, after all, what he likes to do for other people, he tried to imagine that somehow this was all a put-up job. In so doing, this truth telling organization begins to construct a magnificent lie," says Gibney. "That to me is the heart of the story and what we need to get after."

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London for months now, avoiding extradition to Sweden.

As it turns out, the title of Gibney's film - "We Steal Secrets" - comes from a former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden. How's that for timing?

"He says, 'We steal secrets. That's what we do. And in order to do that, you can't do it above board.' So he's saying is, 'We steal secrets so we have to be secret about stealing secrets.' Sometimes stealing secrets is good, I guess," says Gibney. "The military would like to portray these leaks as absolutely an abomination. They said that Assange had blood on his hands but I don't think that's true at all. I don't think that anybody was hurt. I think what happened was, the government was embarrassed. Governments don't like to be embarrassed. So I used that quote from Michael Hayden as a way of putting this whole thing in context."

That context just got a little broader with this past week's news.

Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio Host, Film & Media Critic
Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.
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By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

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