I talk to a documentary filmmaker about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange — the mastermind he followed for months
(WikiRebels — The Documentary. Producer: SVT; directed by investigative reporters Bosse Lindquist and Jesper Huor; featuring interviews withJulian Assange, Kristinn Hrafnsson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Iain Overton)
Final cut locked: Dec. 9. Release date: Dec. 12. Location: Sweden.
"WikiRebels" is that spontaneous documentary that has little time to gestate and churn. It's both a short and sweeping history of WikiLeaks, the organization, and a tight and telling portrait of a determined and daring man, Julian Assange.
Since airing on Sweden's public service broadcasting station, SVT, "WikiRebels" has been or is slated to be released in over fourteen countries around the world including Israel, Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Norway, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. It can also be seen on the internet at SVT.se.
Bosse Lindquist, one of the investigative reporters behind WikiRebels, is a veteran documentarian with over five film titles and roughly 20 radio documentary titles to his credit. I reached him by phone in his native Stockholm, the epicenter of the WikiLeaks crisis, to hear his take on the organization and the mastermind he followed for months.
When did you first begin filming Julian Assange?
That was in September 2010. I first met him in June 2010. WikiLeaks was starting to think about broadcasting partners because they had newspapers. So they came to SVT in Stockholm. Julian was also thinking of applying for residency in Sweden. Sweden gives a lot of protection for freedom of speech.
Had you known of Assange for a while?
Prior to June I had never heard of him or WikiLeaks. But it quickly became clear to me that it was a remarkable project. So I suggested we make a documentary around the Iraq war logs release.
But then came Cablegate and the rape allegations.
Yes, the rape allegations came about while we were filming. They occured after he arrived in Sweden. He made a triumphant arrival in Sweden. The Social Democratic Party had seminars with him and he was lauded all over the place. The rape allegations came as a shock. It was strange — if he had done it, why would he have risked so much?
When his police report got leaked, what were you thinking? Much difference between that leak and the leaking of documents from the State Department?
This is the central question of WikiLeaks. There are reasons why documents in Sweden — or anywhere — get that confidential stamp. So leaking has often a price. My feeling is that in certain circumstances, like the Collateral Murder video, it's so clear that crimes were commited that WikiLeaks did a huge service to the world. People might get justice. Perhaps the act of war making will change in the future. But for some parts of the information that was published from the cables more had the character of gossip, and hence much harder to justify. It's the same with the transcripts from the Swedish police — releasing their contents would probably not help the rest of the world shed much light on WikiLeaks.
And tell us when you first found out about the diplomatic cables.
When we were filming.
Do you feel as though you and your film are serving international law by disseminating the WikiLeaks material?
No. "WikiRebels" has no radically new information. As a filmmaker I find activist filmmakers to be uninteresting. If you've already made up your mind it's boring. WikiLeaks is two-sided but I think it's done more good than bad. But it's extremely important to keep your critical mind. It's an open question whether we lost it or not.
Did you try to contact anyone at the Pentagon?
They declined. We called them. We wrote to them. We have a small snippet with a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Michael Mullen. Did he comment enough?
No. A case can be made for why diplomatic cables should not be released. It would have been nice to have seen them expound on this.
Do you think "WikiRebels" gives Assange an advantage because of the angle?
I think the outcome would have been the same but it could have been complicated, more interesting. I do think the US voice comes out a bit squarish. You can criticize the US but it's still one of the most democratic places. It's easy to forget this point when concentrating on the things that don't work. Some Europeans may not want to admit it but the US is one of the freest nations in the world.
And yet, Private Manning is locked up in solitary confinement and has been for months without any charges. What about him?
The US is not showing its most democratic or humanitarian side in how it treats Manning – being held without charges, psychic torture. The US has, no doubt, some very ugly many faces as well.
What about the faces of Julian Assange? Do you think he's guilty, at the very least, of creating chaos? Or is it the chaos of suppressed information that created him?
That's a hard one — too early to give a verdict. Far too early. We don't know if Assange will get blood on his hands as a result. We don't have the final score on what the effects will be from the cables. And we don't know how this will affect government behavior. With time, WikiLeaks may very well be found to have had a profoundly positive effect. He might be right — this might help governments, businesses, organizations to do some stuff correctly for fear of being exposed in this way.
Unless there's a WikiLeaks plot twist. Call it a Robert Ludlum layer: Julian Assange and Private Manning are both US Intelligence cells and neither of them really knows who they're working for. The leaks are masterminded to contain information that ultimately helps the powers that be to control us. They do this by exploiting the WikiLeaks saga to curtail freedoms on the internet, by instituting legislation that shields only certain journalists and government sanctioned media outlets from the Espionage Act, by exposing carefully orchestrated "secrets" in order to rearrange geopolitics and its players, and the list goes on…
What do you think? Is the man you met and followed for many months a possible tool of the US government or some other intelligence organization? Or is that movie junk?
If Assange turned out to be a double agent, we would all have to don our hats in appreciation of the intelligence services — finally having shown themselves truly creative and intelligent, to a level no one ever had seen before. No, I’m sorry, WikiLeaks has revealed far too much damning stuff, in a far too intelligent and dangerous way, to be plausible as a CIA hoax.
How do you think history will record this period? Ten years from now are WikiLeaks and the WikiRebels winners or losers? Imitated or long forgotten?
Winners! Imitated, worked upon, many followers. I think they've started a very important discussion: what should be public, what should