We Steal Secrets - Talking Points
Talking Points "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks"
WikiLeaks released the annotated transcript of the $2 million documentary "We Steal Secrets - The Story of WikiLeaks" on 23 May 2013, a day before its release in movie theatres. Read the press release here and view the annotated transcript here.
General note: Neither Julian Assange nor anyone associated with WikiLeaks agreed to participate in this film. Any footage of Assange or WikiLeaks’ staff was taken from stock footage without their consent.
The film is filled with factual errors and speculation, some examples of which are set out below, including in relation to Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks redaction policies and the case in Sweden. The stock footage used has also been heavily edited, in some places distorting what was said.
1. Title implies WikiLeaks steals secrets
Film Title - We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Note: "We Steal" as if WikiLeaks does (Implies WL lawbreaker not publisher)
The film begins, with its very title, implying that WikiLeaks steals secrets and is breaking the law through its activities. The film implies - and in some cases suggests, erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary, that Assange may be guilty of conspiring with Bradley Manning. This is not only factually incorrect, but it also buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers who receive information can be prosecuted as co-conspirators with their alleged sources or with whistleblowers wanting to communicate information to them. This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organisations - not just WikiLeaks.
In the United States, or at least until recently, a publisher of classified material obtained by others is not prosecuted; though the leaker may be. Bradley Manning, one of WikiLeaks’ alleged sources, is currently being court-martialed for violations of the Espionage Act and Uniform Military Code for aiding the enemy, unauthorized access and theft of information. He is defending those charges in a 12 week trial which commences on 3 June 2013. However, the publishers of his alleged leaks would not in the normal course face prosecution: WikiLeaks, New York Times, the Guardian and many others. Nowhere in the film does anyone quoted in the film say that WikiLeaks steals secrets: this is referable to a former CIA chief speaking about US spies. Why it is used as an epithet for the story of WikiLeaks is difficult to imagine, except to paint WikiLeaks as a source and not solely a publisher; to imply the journalist or publisher can be complicit in the act of their source if they receive information and, in particular, are anything other than a passive recipient of information, a position the US government is working hard to establish. Throughout the film, Gibney propagates the idea Assange had been "fishing" for the leaks or that Manning had been "persuaded" to leak. This is factually incorrect (see below) but also buys into the dangerous proposition that journalists and publishers can be conspirators by virtue of their interaction with confidential sources.
2. The film suggests Assange persuaded Manning to leak or conspired with him
Film: "In this environment of expanding secrecy, Assange went fishing for secrets to publish. To bait whistleblowers, he published a list of the most wanted leaks."
Note: Gibney’s choice of words, "Fishing," "Bait", implies solicitation.
Throughout the film, Gibney propagates the idea Assange had been "fishing" for the leaks or that Manning had been "persuaded" to leak. This is factually incorrect but also buys into the dangerous proposition that journalists and publishers can be conspirators by virtue of their interaction with confidential sources. The US government is attempting to argue that any news organization that deals with confidential sources can be put into prison for engaging in "conspiracy".
This is factually incorrect. WikiLeaks makes clear on its website that, like "other media outlets conducting investigative journalism, they accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information": http://wikileaks.org/About.html. The list referred to in the film was in fact compiled by human rights NGOs, activists, lawyers, journalists and historians nominating the censored documents they considered the most important to uncover.
Film: "But in online chats with WikiLeaks, Manning’s thoughts changed - either he decided or he was persuaded - that he should capture more flags; a lot of flags."
Note: By using the term "or he was persuaded" the film tries to implicate WikiLeaks in a conspiracy to obtain classified material from Manning. The film makes this suggestion without basis - and it has since been proven to be factually incorrect: Manning makes clear in his pre-trial statement that no one at WikiLeaks pressured him into giving any information and that he made his own decision to send documents.
The film suggests Assange persuaded Manning to leak
Film: "Later, Manning talked to him about the progress of the uploads. In Manning’s buddy list, the address was listed under a familiar name: Julian Assange."
Note: There is no evidence that Manning was communicating with Assange. Bradley Manning says he was not even sure who he was allegedly talking to at WikiLeaks. The film entirely omits the statement Manning himself presented to court:
"Due to the strict adherence of anonymity by the WLO [WikiLeaks], we never exchanged identifying information. However, I believe the individual was likely Mr. Julian Assange [he pronounced it with three syllables], Mr. Daniel Schmidt, or a proxy representative of Mr. Assange and Schmidt.
"As the communications transferred from IRC to the Jabber client, I gave ’office’ and later ’pressassociation’ the name of Nathaniel Frank in my address book, after the author of a book I read in 2009."
3. The film trivialises the political significance of Manning’s alleged actions
Film: "Just what had happened with Bradley Manning? Was this just a data dump? Or was this the act of a man who had peaked behind the curtain of a superpower and decided that what it was doing was wrong?"
Throughout the film, attempts are made to ascribe psychological rather than political motives to Bradley Manning’s whistle-blowing, trivialising the political significance of his actions. The film focuses on his sexuality, his gender dysmorphia, and at one point even superimposes a picture of his face on that of Jean Harlow. Manning’s political and principled motivations for disclosing the information are detailed clearly in the statement he made in the court-martial proceedings:
Providence Hearing: Manning’s Statement
4. The film makes a clear error when it suggests WikiLeaks deceives its donors
Film: "This dinner for free speech was, in fact, a dinner for Julian’s sex offence defence fund. No one knows now whether money going to WikiLeaks is going to Julian or elsewhere."
Note: The Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Staff Legal Defense Fund and the various means by which WikiLeaks receives donations for its running costs are kept separate.
Donors were given a choice to donate to WikiLeaks or JADF, and this was made explicitly clear. The original ’Dinner For Free Speech’ web page is still available and it clearly indicates where donors can choose to donate to either the Defense Fund or to WikiLeaks: http://web.archive.org/web/20110629...
The JADF is administered and audited by Derek Rothera & Co. The terms of the trust and trustees can be found here: http://rothera.com/images/JulianAss.... More:
This distinction is also made clear on the WikiLeaks donation page: http://shop.WikiLeaks.org/donate
Film: "Despite that special relationship, Assange desperately fought extradition to Sweden and lost every appeal. His legal battle drained his finances and trapped him at the family farm for over a year. Hoped-for funding didn’t come and WikiLeaks suspended operations. His international organization had blown apart."
Note: Since December 2010 WikiLeaks has released the GTMO Files, the SpyFiles, the Stratfor emails dubbed the GIFiles, the Syria Files, and in April 2013 both Cablegate and 1.7 million ’Kissinger cables’ in an easily searchable ’Public Library of US Diplomacy’ (PlusD). Link: http://wikileaks.org
Gibney also appears oblivious of WikiLeaks publishing history prior to the major releases in 2010: he collapses four years of publishing history, touching on nearly every country in the world, into "some smaller successes" — because his documentary does not cover them. In fact, WikiLeaks has been making front pages since 2007. Legal attacks on the organisation started immediately. WikiLeaks won a significant battle against the largest private Swiss bank in US federal courts in 2008. That fight was the subject of extensive discussion, including New York Times editorials. There were many significant WikiLeaks releases and conflicts prior to 2010. They can be found here: http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Main_Page.
Film: "These two cases [Bradley Manning and Julian Assange] have nothing to do with each other. Julian - he’s not even imprisoned - he has locked himself up to avoid coming to Sweden to answer a few pretty simple questions."
Film: "The biggest mystery of all was the role of the United States. Over two years after the first leak, no charges had been filed by the US. Assange claimed that the US was biding its time, waiting for him to go to Sweden, but there was no proof."
Film: "Despite the lack of evidence of any secret plot, Ecuador granted him asylum"
Note: The film minimises the serious investigation and prosecution of Julian Assange in the US and what would happen to him were he extradited to the US. It does so to make the argument that Assange is in the embassy to simply avoid going to Sweden. This is false: he sought asylum based on his concern about being extradited to the US, and Ecuador granted asylum on the basis of the evidence presented. The cases of Manning and Assange are clearly linked, as was made explicit in the course of the Manning proceedings with reference being made to the parallel DOJ investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks.
There is no "mystery" about the role of the US: there is an ongoing grand jury which has been empaneled since September 2010. This was first confirmed by the US Department of Justice November 2010 and re-confirmed on 26 March 2013.
The grand jury is, by its nature, secret. It cannot be said that "no charges" have been filed. The filmmaker certainly does not know that: it is illegal to disclose whether or not an indictment exists. It is a common practice to issue sealed indictments. Charges would not be made public until Assange is in custody. A former high level State Department official said in a once confidential email (Stratfor) that there was such a sealed indictment.
Source: Rolling Stone
It cannot be said that there is "no proof that the U.S was biding its time". The US ambassador to the UK said this on the BBC in February 2011: the US would wait to see what happened in Sweden. Discussions between US and Sweden reported that US only would extradite after Swedish charges are disposed of.
7. The film lies about Julian Assange
Film: "I raised this with Julian and he said if an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces he deserves to die."
Note: Assange has always maintained he never said this and made a formal complaint to the Leveson Inquiry about the veracity of Davies’ evidence. Assange is alleged to have made this remark while discussing the redaction of the Afghan War Diaries with journalists from Der Spiegel and the Guardian during a dinner in London in July 2010.
Nick Davies was not present at that dinner. A journalist at that dinner, John Goetz, has provided a signed witness statement to affirm the remark was not made: http://wlstorage.net/file/cms/Folde...
WikiLeaks ’ambassador’ Joseph Farrell emailed the OfCom complaint containing the Goetz witness statement to Gibney, his producer and his executive producer on 14 June 2012.
Film: "Julian urged the New York Times to send a letter to the Pentagon, asking if they want to help with redactions and they refused. And that was 24 hours before the release, you know."
Note: There was no fixed schedule for release of the held-back 15,000 documents for which WikiLeaks sought Pentagon help with redaction. This was confirmed on August 8, 2010 by Domscheit-Berg himself (who kept giving media interviews worldwide despite his role as a WikiLeaks spokesman being restricted to Germany): "[Daniel Schmitt] rejected allegations that the group’s publication of leaked U.S. government documents was a threat to America’s national security or put lives at risk. ’For this reason, we conveyed a request to the White House prior to the publication, asking that the International Security Assistance Force provide us with reviewers’, Schmitt said. That request remains open. However, the Pentagon has stated that it is not interested in ’harm minimization’ and has not contacted us, directly, or indirectly to discuss this offer."
8. The Film misrepresents the Swedish case and Assange’s reasons for asylum
Film: "Was Sweden acting as an agent of the United States?"
The film clearly suggests that Assange has said this to be true. While Assange had been previously warned by of a potential "honey trap" by Australian intelligence sources and was surprised by the allegations to allege "US dirty tricks" (see here and here.
Film: "Interpol issued a demand for Assange’s arrest for his failure to return to Sweden to answer questions about sex charges."
There are no charges in Sweden.
Film: "One week after the arrest warrant was issued, Assange surrendered to police in London."
Julian Assange voluntarily attended a London police station for arrest by appointment and was immediately imprisoned. He was held without charge in the highest security unit of Wandsworth prison. After appeals he was eventually released into house arrest and an electronic monitoring device was strapped to his leg. After 552 days he applied for political asylum.
9. The film engages is baseless speculation about Julian Assange’s private life
Film: "The testimony of the women raised another issue: did he refuse to use a condom because he wanted to make the women pregnant?"
Film: "There may be some sort of primary impulse in him to want to reproduce, to want to have some sort of bedrock in his life. You know, this is the ultimate digital man and actually you can’t just live in a digital world."
This is baseless speculation. To make the point, the film cites Iain Overton, who does not know Assange other than in a professional capacity and has no direct personal knowledge of the facts in Sweden or of Assange’s family situation. The film cites the women’s testimony to say Assange had refused to wear a condom.
This is not supported by the facts recounted in the testimony: Assange complied with each stated request to use a condom. AA’s testimony makes clear that Assange put on a condom when she verbally asked him to. Instead, her testimony alleges that the condom was broken during intercourse and she alleges that Assange broke it deliberately. This is a matter of factual dispute which will be contested at any trial. Assange is legally prevented from making comment. In the case of SW, her testimony states that Assange had complied with her earlier requests to use a condom but no condom was used in their final interaction, at which time she did not repeat her request to Assange or complain about its use or non-use.
10. The film makes important omissions in relation to the Swedish case
Film: "An unknown source leaked the police report to the press. It included the testimony of Assange, the two women and, surprisingly, a picture of a torn condom."
While the film refers to a picture of the "torn condom" from the leaked police file, it fails to mention that forensic analysis provided with that picture found there was no chromosomal DNA on that condom.
See, for example: http://www.smh.com.au/world/no-assa...
Film: "There was an enormous amount of hype and misinformation and bullshit that came out of Julian Assange’s supporters, and the more that people realise that they were lied to by Julian, the less moral and political authority he has. He’s supposed to be about the truth."
This is false. Assange has not lied to his supporters - or anyone else - about this case. No explanation or evidence is given to support this claim. Furthermore, Nick Davies - from whom this quote is taken - has no direct knowledge of the facts in the Sweden case. Nor does the film mention that Davies’ written accounts of the case have been heavily disputed or that he is a partisan adversary of WikiLeaks.
Film: "Talk about why we’re altering your appearance and filming you in this way?"
Film: "You’ve been very careful not to say anything, why?" "Because this is a legal case and not a public debate."
Film: An organiser for a WikiLeaks seminar in Stockholm, Anna invited Julian to stay in her apartment while she was out of town, then she decided to come back early. The following day at the seminar Julian was approached by another WikiLeaks volunteer, her name was Sofia.
Note: A commonplace falsehood is that the two Swedish women were WikiLeaks volunteers, repeated here carelessly by Alex Gibney. Neither individual had anything to do with WikiLeaks. Anna helped organise the seminar on behalf of the Social Democrats.
Anna made a very important public announcement after this interview. On 22 April 2013 she tweeted that she had "not been raped". The other woman, Sofia, has stated that she also had not been raped and that the police had "railroaded" her and "made up the charges (sic)".
Anna has not spoken directly to the press since 21 August 2010 (the day after the police complaint). Her counsel, the politician/lawyer Claes Borgström, however, appeared continuously in Swedish and international media to push his position on the preliminary investigation against Julian Assange. His media appearances were especially intense in the month leading up to the national elections for which he ran (19 September 2010).
Borgström has so far billed 80 hours for Assange-related media appearances, although he estimated that the amount was much greater. This led to a civil rights group filing a complaint against Borgström to the Bar Association’s discipline commission in June 2012.
Alex Gibney falsely implies that it is Julian Assange’s fault that the identities of the two women became known. Anna’s name became public after the Swedish police leaked her name by mistake when redacted copies of the police report were obtained by the press under Sweden’s Freedom of Information laws. Anna’s name was not removed from the document header (an error by the Swedish authorities). Swedish police unlawfully released Assange’s name to the Swedish right-wing tabloid Expressen, which is what made the story public in the first place. The New York Times was the first to publish Anna’s name when it republished her previously anonymous interview from August 21, 2010.
You can download the original version of this briefing - note the file below.