Posts Tagged ‘Alex Gibney’


In a short documentary directed by Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright and others discuss what the C.I.A. knew about the 9/11 hijackers—before 9/11

Most Americans know next to nothing about the controversy over the CIA’s behavior prior to 9/11. This short introduction features FBI agents who tried to stop the attacks.

There is an assumption that should not be accepted at face value, that the CIA was allegedly “recruiting” the hijackers. There is no evidence to support this cover story. They did NOT recruit them. They knew they were in the country and that numerous threat warnings were coming in, and CIA deliberately failed to take any action (besides lying) for 16 months.


Read Part One: We Steal Secrets (2013) 


Jemima Khan, The Unlikely Activist?

Above: “Jemima Khan in the sitting room of her Fulham house, which she decorated herself.” (Photo by Eva Vermandel. Photo and description, New York Times)

By Danny Schechter

In case you missed my last dissection, “New WikiLeaks Movie Infuriates WikiLeaks,“ when I was watching the movie, I was put off by the inordinate attention paid to Julian Assange’s “house arrest” stay at the home of British millionaire who put him and some of the bond money up. It made Assange, who wanted to be seen as a man of the people, look like an aristocrat living in luxury.

As it now turns out, one of Executive Producers on the film is an aristocrat who lived like that all the time and like others backed Assange, before betraying him. Her story, with an over the top photo plush spread gets a fawning tabloid treatment in the new New York Times’ SYTLE Magazine. Check this out:

“Jemima Khan may live the grand life of an English aristocrat, but behind the famous boyfriends and the important hair is a serious political journalist and a budding documentary film producer. Her latest project? Taking on WikiLeaks…

(Where else but the NYTimes, which loves the British aristocracy, do we find a term like “important hair”?)

“I haven’t done any interviews for quite a while,” Khan said. “I am naturally quite an open person, and I always end up saying too much.”


Photo and description via the New York Times: Khan and Grant: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage; Khan and Janklow: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images; Khan and Imran: Mian Khursheed/Reuters/Corbis.
Clockwise, from top left: Jemima, with her brothers Zac and Ben and her mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, at Ormeley Lodge, their London home, in 1983; with Hugh Grant in 2007; with Luke Janklow in 2010; at the beach as a young girl with her father, Jimmy Goldsmith, brother Zac and her mother; with her former husband Imran Khan in 2002.

But she has made an exception in the service of “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” a film about the online anti-secrecy group and its founder, Julian Assange, that was directed by Alex Gibney (“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer“) and of which Khan is an executive producer. Khan has been involved with Assange’s case since he was arrested in December 2010, and she helped post bail for him, but the movie examines him and his work with a cool dispassion. (SIC!)

As she talks about her own work, Khan realizes there is a bit of a perception problem, a slight disconnect — her charmed upbringing and potentially frivolous existence at odds with, as becomes increasingly clear, the serious-minded, hyper-busy reality of her working life.

The tabloids persist in calling her “socialite Jemima Khan,” as if that were an official title, like “doctor,” and Khan, 39, has indeed appeared often in the party-photos sections of glossy magazines and Web sites. Her father was the late financier Sir Jimmy Goldsmith; her mother is Lady Annabel Goldsmith, a legendarily charming hostess whose first husband, Mark Birley, named Annabel’s nightclub after her. The two had 10 children between them; Jimmy Goldsmith was an inveterate keeper of mistresses (in fact, Annabel was his mistress before she became his wife) who fathered children with four different women. Life around the dinner table was complicated, noisy and filled with vociferous debate about the issues of the day.”

This NYT article celebrates Ms. Kahn as an “unlikely activist.


Photo and caption from NYT: Khan at her writing desk in the house’s sitting room. Photo by Eva Vermandel.

“We Steal Secrets,” which was released last month, examines the complicated case of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. It also examines in fascinating detail the equally complicated and possibly more interesting, because it is so shocking, case of Bradley Manning, the troubled, sexually confused Army intelligence analyst whose leaking of secret American diplomatic and policy documents allegedly to WikiLeaks led to his arrest three years ago. (He is currently awaiting trial.) As for Assange, the movie dissects all his contradictions, examining him as hero and villain, as an advocate of openness and transparency who is also a deeply secretive, possibly paranoid control freak — an ultimately unknowable person.

Khan’s connection to the movie came because she was an admirer from afar of WikiLeaks and, for a time, a high-profile supporter of Assange’s in Britain. “There was a lot of stuff coming out about Pakistan, which confirmed suspicions I had about the sort of double-dealing of the government,” she said of the WikiLeaks material. And more simply, “I don’t like lies,” she explained. “WikiLeaks exposed the most dangerous lies of all, which are those that are told to us by elected governments.”

She was drawn into Assange’s odd, charismatic orbit after the British authorities placed him in solitary confinement while he fought extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on charges of sexually assaulting two former WikiLeaks volunteers. Along with other sympathizers, Khan helped post his bail, which ran to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But then several things happened. Working with Gibney on his WikiLeaks documentary, Khan served as his liaison to Assange and was sucked further and further into the morass of Assange’s suspicious, conspiracy-theory-suffused mind. Assange at first seemed amenable to an interview on camera, but became increasingly, maddeningly obstructive, finally heaping so many conditions and demands that negotiations over the terms completely broke down.

Then Assange suddenly jumped bail — Khan and the other supporters lost their money — and dramatically sought political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy, around the corner from Harrods, where he has remained, confined to a small studio, since last June.

You can read the rest, including the fact that she lost money when Assange jumped bail….. So, she felt betrayed and then soon betrayed him in a film that is as much a hit job as a profile.

And now we have the “back story” of yet another member of the film’s bizarre team who loved Assange until they turned on him. The story of the movie is now becoming as fascinating as the story the sleazy movie posing as a serious documentary purports to tell.


News Dissector Danny Schechter edits, blogs at news, and has an NYT eXaminer column. Danny is also an independent filmmaker. Comments to

By Danny Schechter:


Every documentary filmmaker begins with deciding on the story to be told, and, then, how to sustain audience interest.

If your goal is to inform the public or take a stand on an important issue by explaining its origins and exposing wrong doers then you go one way. If your goal is to entertain and shroud your motives by exploring murky personality contradictions, you go another.

We Steal Secrets, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary (or is it a docudrama?), skillfully made with the backing of major media company tries to do both.

Ironically, that company, Comcast-Universal, owners of NBC, is at the same time having a major success with another movie, Fast and Furious 6, glamorizing a criminal gang that relies on speedy cars.

You could say that WikiLeaks, the subject of We Steal Secrets also began with a fury – a fury against war and secrecy, and was moving as fast as it could to challenge media complacency in the digital realm.

Now, it is being ganged up on by a media that invariably builds you up before tearing you down.

The docu-tract uses slick graphics to creatively report on the origins and impact of WikiLeaks, the online whistleblower collective, but then, for “balance” and perhaps to pre-empt any criticisms of any bias, especially too much ideological sympathy, opened the tap on endless criticisms by Wiki-dissidents who have turned on founder Julian Assange, as well as the pathetic patriot hacker turned informant, Adrian Lamo, who ratted out Manning.

The movie revels in all the negatives that surround him, and his chief and gutsy leaker, Private First Class Bradley Manning who is on the eve of a trial that could land him behind bars for life under the 1917 Espionage Act.

On June 1st, Manning supporters will rally at the Virginia base at which he is being held. ABC News reports, “ABC News reports: “A large crowd is expected at Fort Meade this weekend for a mass demonstration in support of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning.” His trial begins June 3.

Says Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights: “The Manning trial is occurring in the context of perhaps the most repressive atmosphere for free press in recent memory. It was bad enough that the Obama administration prosecuted twice the number of whistleblowers than all prior administrations combined. Then it went after logs and records of journalists and publishers…”

Manning’s recent and widely unreported statement in Court explaining his reasons for making the secret documents public is not in the film.

The film mentions, but does not explore, Manning’s claim that he offered his data first to mainstream newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post which showed no interest.

Their failure to publish the story was one of the reasons the soldier turned to WikiLeaks. And, also, one of the reasons that validates WikiLeaks claim of having a journalistic mission.

So, the stakes are high, and its surprising that the film’s very title, “We Steal Secrets,” an idea that many might be taken as a Wiki-boast, was really an admission by former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden about what the U.S. government, not WikiLeaks, is all about. Balancing his espionage boosterism is a former Republican Justice Department hack.

It is very rare for an Indy filmmaker to land interviews with top intelligence honchos. Who had the juice to get this “get” as major interviews are called in the news world.

Supporters of Assange like civil libertarians, media freedom groups. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, or critics like Noam Chomsky, are conspicuously absent.

As a result, We Steal Secrets seems more like a case for the prosecution than the defense, at least in the Court of Public opinion.

The film has had a big promotional push and is already playing in three theaters in New York, a success that masks some of its editorial failings including its in your face attempt at “fairness and balance,” the pretext the one-siders at FOX use as their claim to credibility.

The promotional hype for the film initially made it seem like an endorsement of Assange until you read it closely.

“Filmed with the startling immediacy of unfolding history, Academy Award®-winning director Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks details the creation of Julian Assange’s controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in U.S. history. Hailed by some as a free-speech hero and others as a traitor and terrorist, …”

So, there you are, the movie’s real question: is Assange a good guy or not? And what about Manning? Why did he do what he did? So, at the outset, Gibney leaves the political plane for a psychological, or even, a psychiatric one. He is out to personalize and in the process depoliticize a very political issue for what’s known in the news-biz as “character-based story telling.”

The mantra; stick with people, not their passions, individuals not ideas.

Yes, there’s lots of information about the goals and methods of WikiLeaks, but, that becomes in this movie a subtext to a more Shakespearean tragedy: the rise and fall of idealists who turn into their opposites, or are using politics to work out their twisted personal issues.

Out goes more film time devoted to war crimes and information concealment; and, in comes juicy stories about sex without condoms, cross-dressing, and gender conflicts to soften the brew.

The “worthy” appearance of investigation quickly turns into the nasty reality of exploitation with the focus on their subject’s flaws, not their bravery, a theme I am sure played well in the conservative board room at Comcast.

  • The Village Voice asks in its review, “is a strong point of view really such a bad thing? The movie leaves you feeling lost and confused. Fix. Please.”
  • The Washington Post seemed to celebrate its expose, not of government secrets—but of secret-hunter Assange, writing, “At best, Assange comes across as something of a noble jerk, a man who doesn’t care about embarrassing public figures who have done wrong. At worst, he comes across as a callous sociopath, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to publish unredacted details of military operations that might actually get people killed, only to lie about it after the fact by claiming that WikiLeaks had “systems” in place to prevent potentially harmful disclosures. There weren’t, according to several seemingly knowledgeable individuals, including Assange’s former WikiLeaks colleagues.” (Doesn’t this reality show how bogus the oft-repeated fears of many in the media and government were?)
  • The New York Times was also a bit perturbed—not too much, given the paper’s frequent trashing of Assange, (after milking the secrets he gave them)—describing it as a “tale of absolutist ideals that seemed somehow to curdle and of private torment in search of an outlet with drastic results.” Again, the theme is the personal more than the political.

The message: You can’t trust anyone, much less anyone challenging power.

No wonder that Assange—who was not interviewed for this movie, perhaps sensing a hit job—has turned against the movie. WikiLeaks even got its hands on a script before the film’s release and annotated it to challenge its veracity. You can read it on their website at

WikiLeaks says, “The film portrays Manning’s alleged acts as failure of character rather than a triumph of conscience. The portrayal of Manning’s alleged relationship to WikiLeaks and to Assange is grossly irresponsible and suggests – erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary – that Assange may be guilty of conspiring with Bradley Manning to commit espionage or similar offences. The film buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers can be prosecuted as co-conspirators alongside their alleged sources.

This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organizations — not just WikiLeaks. In the context of the US government’s attempts to prosecute journalists who communicate with confidential sources, Gibney’s film could have been an important and timely project. The film barely touches on the US investigation against WikiLeaks, never mentions the words “grand jury”, and trivializes the larger issues, perhaps because the film-maker could not secure an interview with Julian Assange?

The film reports that Assange demanded millions for an interview (this was also reported erroneously by the New York Times but then corrected). If true, this is Assange’s way, no doubt, of mocking the big bucks behind the production. He knew they wanted the big confrontational Q&A and wouldn’t give it to them!

He says there are two more Wikleaks films on the way that he has cooperated with.

I have been impressed with Alex Gibney’s work. He is a talented pro, and this film is worth seeing (and dissecting). I also admire the daring of Manning and Assange who are faulted for being paranoid, but, given the propaganda and legal broadsides launched against them, you can understand why.

Remember when the US government sent thugs to break into Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office looking for ways to discredit him? Making your whistleblowers appear weird and crazy is an old technique used by the powerful against those who question power.

Kafka couldn’t of come up with a more byzantine legal process than the one that Manning faces. (Military justice is said to be for justice what military bands are for music.) There are, for example, no official transcripts of the legal proceedings available. Prominent journalists are calling for more access and transparency.

And while having Assange taking refuge in London’s Ecuador Embassy seems absurd, it is also a sign that there are people worldwide who respect and admire the work that WikiLeaks does!

We Steal Secrets is now a high profile part of the media war that WikiLeaks is fighting, a war that has often put whistleblower groups at odds with the press whose freedom it champions. That press insists their way is the only way and is in the business of marginalizing dissidents.

So, first, there were the newspapers, who initially rejected the secrets of government abuse, and then used WikiLeaks, before repudiating Assange as not a “real journalist,” as they apparently believe themselves to be. Then, collectively and arrogantly turned on him in masse.

Now, documentaries have become part of this contested terrain.

Read Part Two: We Steal Secrets (Follow Up)

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits, blogs at news, and has an NYT eXaminer column. Danny is also an independent filmmaker. Comments to

““As someone who has extensively covered the story of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, there are multiple aspects of the film that happen to be misleading, disingenuous or seem to be the product of a director who has an axe to grind,””
‘We Steal Secrets’ Documentary Focuses on Personalities of Assange, Manning Over Significance of WikiLeaks

Beating the entertainment industry in the message control race, Wikileaks leaked the transcript of the new documentary, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” one night ahead of its worldwide release. The leaked transcript includes annotations that allege factual errors, misrepresentations and misguided framing in the film, directed by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney.

WikiLeaks Leaks Transcript of Hollywood’s Doc on the Online Activists