We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Documentary – We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

DirectorAlex Gibney

This month, as part of our Secluded Series the spotlight is on Alex Gibney’s documentary ‘We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks’.

In 1989, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was infected with a worm. NASA had been preoccupied with the launch of the Galileo space probe in October of 1989, the controversy surrounding this probe was centred specifically on its nuclear power capabilities. 

As this probe took the imaginations of people, the global media hype intensified. During this period NASA’s scientists started to notice abnormalities with their work computers. It was stated that scientists would arrive at work in the morning and put down their cup of coffee and upon attempting to log in, only noticing their screen, which displayed the sentence “your system has been WANKed.”

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

It was never proven but this NASA worm seemingly originated from Australia. A small group of hackers in Melbourne were thought to be the source. “Wank Worm,” a lyric from a song from the Australian rock band The Midnight Oil renowned for not just music but their political activism and opposition to nuclear power. The band was a notable favourite of Melbourne native, Julian Assange. 

Assange’s Story 

On the 3rd of July 1971, Julian Paul Assange was born. Assange, the editor, publisher and activist, also found WikiLeaks back in 2006. Assange is a name that has recently been in the headlines with his ongoing court case. His organisation WikiLeaks was designed to provide a safe, secure and anonymous way for whistleblowers to disclose confidential information in the interest of the mass populace. 

However, the political elite and the intelligence agencies of the United States, among other nations, felt the gauntlet had been thrown down after Assange vocalised the drive to provide the uncensored truth. The aspiration of creating a data hub encompassing whistleblower files, which was secure, accessible and safe for both the public and whistleblower use. In order to bait whistleblowers, Assange published a list of the most wanted leaks in 2009. 

Assange by way of WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 when it published a series of leaks provided by US Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning. WikiLeaks had some major discoveries prior to the Manning leaks, such as; a swiss tax-evading bank, government corruption and murder in Kenya and a secret company report on illegal toxic waste dumping. The 2010 leaks included the Afghanistan war logs, the Iraq war logs, Cablegate and the Baghdad airstrike Collateral Murder video. In response to the leaks, the United States launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. 

In the aftermath of the events of 9/11, the seemingly inefficient restrictive prevailing policy surrounding information sharing between intelligence agencies in the United States were reformed. In conjunction with this change, there were also concrete efforts to scale up the country’s surveillance service. 

Across the US, a rapid expansion occurred with Data Centres popping up all across the country. During this period, the number of classified documents a year expanded from 8 million to 76 million, with over 4 million people having some form of access to the aforementioned classified documents. The agencies started intercepting phone calls and emails, at a rate of 60,000 per second and at the time, not even congress knew the budget associated with this expansion. 

The attention and more importantly the camera switches to Iceland. The restless citizens protest their banks. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are at the centre of a controversial leak that implicated the Icelandic banks and was at the core of essential information that aided the subsequent activist activities that sought to reform their banking/ finance sector. 

A leading public news broadcaster in Iceland had intended to provide a segment of analysis and coverage of the leak, however, they were unable to report on the issue, due to an injunction aka gag order prior to publishing. In order to report on this vital information, without breaching the injunction the broadcaster provided a picture of the WikiLeaks website to direct its viewers on where to access this pertinent information. WikiLeaks were only in their infancy. The team consisted of only Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who initially had no funding or organizational structure.

The mission of WikiLeaks had been vocalised by Assange and the organisation’s impact at the centre of the aforementioned leaks was clearly visible. Fox News in the aftermath of the 2010 leaks, had a number of negative comments from their presenters and guests, who also explicitly stated assassinating Assange was an option. Two days after the leak Interpol sought to extradite Assange to Sweden as there was an ongoing investigation. 

In tandem with the extradition orders, the main payment methods that had been used to fund WikiLeaks after pressure refused to support the WikiLeaks platform and multiple cyberattacks targeting the main website. The supporters of Wikileaks hosted the information on the website across thousands of servers around the world. His case in Sweden was of a personal nature unrelated to WikiLeaks. For a period of time, Assange fled from the police and intelligence agencies, as he feared extradition initially to Sweden, which he thought was merely a precursor before extradition to the United States. The charges in Sweden were thought to be political by both Assange and his supporters. 

By 2012, no charges had been made by the United States after the leaks two years prior. As Assange ran out of money, allegedly sought to get his followers to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. A number of his team members left, as the website went offline. Assange was vocal about his intentions from the start prior to launching WikiLeaks, he was motivated to ensure whistleblowers had a convenient, accessible and secure way to highlight and disclose wrongdoing. 

Described in the documentary as “one man against the world.” His vision and ultimately aspirations for both WikiLeaks and his more provocative pursuit of reforming society byway of the democratisation of information most certainly was rooted in his humanitarian anarchist views. This pursuit effectively led him to his demise, especially given the fact WikiLeaks had caught the attention on more than one occasion of the US government and intelligence agencies. The vision of WikiLeaks was righteous, however, Assange the individual spearheading the organisation became more notable and newsworthy than the former. 

Update on the on-going extradition court case of Julian Assange – 

In May 2019, the US government further charged Assange with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Editors from both, The Washington Post and The New York Times among others criticised the government’s decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act, characterising it as an attack on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press. Since April 2019 Assange has been confined in Belmarsh maximum-security prison in London. 

In early 2021, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled against the United States’ request to extradite him and stated that doing so would be “oppressive” given his mental health. Days later, on the 6th of January 2021, Assange was denied bail pending an appeal by the United States. To read more into the latest coverage from this ongoing court case for Julian Assange, click here

How to get involved: 

Here is a petition to stop the extradition of Julian Assange.

Why not signup for our newsletter and become part of the solution today.

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