PBS // 2011 // 55 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 6th, 2011
How WikiLeaks Became a Media Sensation...and US Public Enemy #1.
For many of us, the first time we ever even heard of WikiLeaks -- the hacker-driven website dedicated to spilling the major secrets of the world in the guise of crusading "whistleblowers" -- was when founder and face of the enterprise, Julian Assange, was running away from Swedish justice (where he was accused of sex crimes) while claiming conspiracy on the part of the US government. Of course, his Internet alcove had just released hundreds of documents regarding America's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there was the marketable threat of "more to come." From then on, it was a clash of irritating ideologies, the weakened Western superpower arguing over the threat to its very being while Assange and the gang claimed that international embarrassment -- and a healthy dose of the reality -- would go a long way toward making the world a better place.
But unless you followed the case closely, unless you knew about WikiLeaks before it became the latest beat on the 24 hour news (re)cycle, you probably never heard of Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army intelligence expert who -- allegedly -- began the whole public PR debacle for Uncle Sam. A closeted gay man in a "DA, DT" regime, he was angry and had access to some of the nation's most shocking secrets. This included hundreds of thousands of correspondences between the US and its diplomatic connections. How this disgruntled member of the military became the cog in a media machine set to drive America into the ground is the basis for this fascinating Frontline documentary, another example of what PBS and its eager investigative reporting can uncover. While it doesn't take sides, one thing is very clear: Assange would not have the profile he doe today were it not for Manning and his desire for a kind of karmic payback for outdated government policies on sexual orientation.
WikiSecrets does a fascinating job of setting the situation up. Manning, a troubled youth and clearly at odds with the social expectations around him, gives in to his father's request and volunteers for active duty. He's smart, knows his way around computers, and sudden becomes party to millions of sensitive files. Over time, as he falls in and out of love (letting Facebook fill in all the personal blanks), he decides to go rogue. He downloads material. He meets up with a group of hackers while on leave. He befriends one of the most famous web "spies" ever, detailing his attempts to reveal the information he has and his growing business "relationship" with Assange. Finally, the Feds step in, Manning is arrested, and WikiLeaks goes on the defensive. From then on, it's all about pre-established rules, plausible deniability, and a solider locked in solitary confinement who does get a chance to tell his side of the story.
Indeed, while Assange argues for his lack of complicity (WikiLeaks has a policy in place that keeps sources "anonymous") and friends play amateur psychologist, Manning is unavailable for comment. In fact, the only flaw in this otherwise engrossing effort is the lack of clear causality. Granted, the video that makes the biggest splash, something called "Collateral Murder," is truly indefensible (especially the part where the soldiers involved practically beg to kill the last remaining survivors of their initial onslaught) yet since we can't hear Manning explain why this -- or any other piece of classified information -- triggered his desire to speak out, we are left with only a percentage of the story. Yes, it's a large percentage, but a percentage none the less. Still, the impact is incredible. We suddenly see a side of the US that hasn't been broached since The Pentagon Papers, for better and for worse.
At a mere 55 minutes, the DVD presentation of WikiSecrets offers a nice audio and video package. The anamorphic widescreen image, slightly compressed top to bottom, is clean and crisp. The colors are bright, and the overall presentation is polished and professional. Similarly, the Dolby Digital Stereo offers all the conversations and interviews in crystal clarity. Even the ominous background music comes across well. Sadly, there is no added content included, meaning you're merely getting the TV episode itself, nothing more. Still, for what it has to say about the American intelligence community, the (former) access people had to our most classified information, and the resulting fallout after it was found out, WikiSecrets is fascinating. It argues for both the validity, and the vileness, of people like Assange and their particular crusade.
Not guilty. A great piece of investigative journalism.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 55 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site