Closely following the character of Julian Assange, founder of the pro-transparency media organization WikiLeaks, the recently aired CNN documentary, "WikiWars," provides a presentation of the story of the organization with a prime focus on Assange's character. It is another opportunity, like PBS' Frontline documentary "WikiSecrets," for a wide audience in the United States to get a better grasp of the nature of the organization.
That, perhaps, is what makes discussing this documentary important. There is no new information in this documentary, but, packaged together, the documentary uses Assange as a vector for communicating the idiosyncrasies of WikiLeaks to an audience. Whether legitimately done or not, viewers are able to hear Assange in footage obtained by the producers and also hear a handful of people, who have worked with Assange, discuss what he is like.
The documentary can be broken into the following parts: an introduction into the behavior and motivations of Assange, the founding of WikiLeaks (which highlights the work that impacted Kenya and Iceland), the release of the "Collateral Murder" video, the release of the Afghan War Logs that involved collaborating with the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, the accusations of sexual assault that now find him under house arrest in the UK and the rise of a secret global force of cyber hacktivists known as Anonymous that have launched DDoS attacks in defense of WikiLeaks.
Larsen frames the story in the opening scene like this:
Over twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came down and it marked the end of a cold war between two superpowers. Now, there's a battle that's being waged for control of information. Its frontlines aren't brick and mortar walls, they're firewalls. Its weapons are computers, not missiles. And its warriors--hackers, activists, even anarchists. It's an epic struggle over state secrets between institutions and individuals. And at the center of this war is Julian Assange.
Centering the documentary on Assange has a way of reinforcing the notion that WikiLeaks is an autocratic organization that is all a project of Assange, who has little regard for his actions. The enigma of Assange is built up throughout the film. He is made to seem more like a fictional character in a spy movie instead of a human being whom has the ability to discern right from wrong and is committed to transparency because of his conscience belief in what the opening up of governments can do to correct injustices and corruption.
As Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former member of WikiLeaks who defected from the organization, says, Assange is smart and intelligent and doesn't really care what anybody else thinks about him. He says Assange sees himself as a "hero of a spy novel" and believes he and everyone around him is being constantly tapped and followed (which journalist Mark Davis says later in the documentary is probably true).
The story sets viewers up to doubt the judgment of Assange's handling of WikiLeaks releases. It asks those watching to consider whether he might be a maniac by showing interviews with journalists like David Leigh of The Guardian, who not only claims Assange has to have it explained to him there are "flesh and blood consequences" to leaking but also says at one point Assange "didn't behave like earthlings."
Fmr. Brig. Gen. Used to Discredit the "Collateral Murder" Video
The most disparaging criticism comes from former Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. Kimmitt, who served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs under George W. Bush from August 2008 to January 2009, is used as a tool to discredit the work of Assange and WikiLeaks. The producers employ his viewpoint to help viewers decide whether Assange and WikiLeaks are correct in their belief that the "Collateral Murder" video, which WikiLeaks released in April 2010, is in fact a war crime.
Here's the full exchange between Kimmitt and Larsen, who go through some of the video together in the CNN Studios in Washington, DC (note: not once is it noted that Kimmitt served in the Bush Administration and might have a clear bias):
LARSEN: This clip is where they believe they identify an RPG. It turns out as we know now that was a long lens telephoto camera held by a Reuters journalist. You can see him as he peak's around the corner there.
(voice over) The Reuters photographer, his assistant and the men around him were all gunned down.- Advertisement -
KIMMITT: This photographer shouldn't have been walking around with an instrument that looks very much like a weapon.
LARSEN: Is the blame on the photographer or is it a causal series of mistakes made by the crew there that led to the ultimate negative consequences?
KIMMITT: Warfare is not perfect. There are mistakes that are sometimes made. He shares much of the blame for what happened here.