Wednesday, June 15, 2011
PBS Frontline: "WikiSecrets": Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and the largest breach in US history
Martin Smith and Marcela Gavaria (with Gavaria directing) have produced the 54-minute Frontline documentary for PBS, which aired May 24, 2011, “WikiSecrets: The Inside Story of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and the Largest Intelligence Breach in U.S. History”.
The documentary first refers to the 40 minute leaked film “Collateral Murder” of a friendly fire mishap by the US Army in Iraq (see my “Threats to freedom films” blog April 7, 2010).
It then traces some of the personal history of PFC Bradley Manning, who joined the Army after a somewhat troubled boyhood, and became an intelligence analyst. Manning was quite open about his homosexuality, especially on Facebook (where he once displayed anger over the loss of a relationship), and did not run into charges under “don’t ask don’t tell” the way soldiers in other commands have ( the Army generally was more “liberal” with the policy than the other services, but still Bradley’s open behavior may seem surprising; fortunately this matter has been downplayed in the repeal legislation of DADT). Bradley did have some run-ins with authority however, even as he was deployed to Iraq with full clearance. There was little effort to track who accessed SCI information, as the services had moved into open sharing since 9/11. Partly out of personal issues, Manning decided to “share” some of the intelligence info after visiting a hacker’s conference in Massachusetts.
The film then focuses on Julian Assange (the “white- haired Aussie”), who had supposedly set up his empire in such a way that he did not know where leaks came from. He is just the distributor (or publisher), not the spy or "traitor". (That seems to be important legally.) But this whole mechanism seemed to break down with Manning’s material as it was leaked to Wired. There is a philosophical question about releasing leaked information when it will implicate the journalistic source. Assange says about this, ““The best way to keep a secret is to never have it.” (Look for a review of “Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty” reviewed Marc h 3, 2009 on the same aforementioned “cf” blog.)
There was a battle between Assange and the New York Times, and Assange gave more materials to the Guardian, but in November 2010 the two papers cooperated in a release of documents, with a lot of restraint and redaction. The film indicates that the release may have stimulated the revolt in Tunisia and later Egypt and contributed to the Arab Spring.
The film ends with a discussion of Manning’s current status, having been transferred to a military prison at Leavenworth. He has a preliminary hearing in July. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, appears and compares himself to Manning. (See my movies blog, Feb. 28, 2010, for review of a documentary about Ellsberg, “The Most Dangerous Man in America”.) The link to the “Free Bradley Manning” site is this. But others think Manning is guilty of treason.
Frontline has a statement on its being hacked in anticipation of this documentary, here.
Frontline also has a ten minute supplementary documentary, “The Private Life of Bradley Manning”, from WGBH, here. His father Brian is interviewed, and Bradley’s trouble with his stepmother is discussed. He is small (5 feet 2, about the height of Matthew Shepard), and learned computer skills early.
I guess WikiSecrets are a bit more of a serious matter than One Republic's "Secrets".