Lack of redaction continued to be a flashpoint for WikiLeaks…
Risk, NEON, 2016
Lack of redaction—or of any real effort to separate disclosures of public importance from those that might simply put private citizens at risk—continued to be a flashpoint for WikiLeaks, its supporters, and its critics. In July 2016, presumably when Poitras was still working on Risk, WikiLeaks dumped nearly 300,000 e-mails it claimed were from Turkey’s ruling AKP party. Those files, it turned out, were not from AKPheavyweights but, rather, from ordinary people writing to the party, often with their personal information included.
Worse, WikiLeaks also posted links to a set of huge voter databases, including one with the names, addresses, and other contact information for nearly every woman in Turkey. It also apparently published the files of psychiatric patients, gay men, and rape victims in Saudi Arabia. Soon after that, WikiLeaks began leaking bundles of hacked Democratic National Committee e-mails, also full of personal information, including cell phone and credit card numbers, leading Wired magazine to declare that “WikiLeaks Has Officially Lost the Moral High Ground.”
Poitras doesn’t say, but perhaps this is when she, too, began to take account of the contradictions that eventually turned her film away from hagiography toward something more nuanced. Though she intermittently interjects herself into the film—to relate a dream she’s had about Assange; to say that he is brave; to say that she thinks he doesn’t like her; to say that she doesn’t trust him—this is primarily a film of scenes, episodic and nearly picaresque save for the unappealing vanity of its hero. (There is very little in the film about the work of WikiLeaks itself.)
Here is Julian, holed up in a supporter’s estate in the English countryside while under house arrest, getting his hair cut by a gaggle of supporters while watching a video of Japanese women in bikinis dancing. Here is Julian in a car with that other famous leaker, Daniel Ellsberg. Here is Julian instructing Sarah Harrison, his WikiLeaks colleague, to call Secretary Clinton at the State Department and tell her she needs to talk to Julian Assange. Here is Julian walking in the woods with one of his lawyers, certain that a bird in a nearby tree is actually a man with a camera. Here is Julian being interviewed, for no apparent reason, by the singer Lady Gaga:
Lady Gaga: What’s your favorite food?
Assange: Let’s not pretend I’m a normal person. I am obsessed with political struggle. I’m not a normal person.
Lady Gaga: Tell me how you feel?
Assange: Why does it matter how I feel? Who gives a damn? I don’t care how I feel.
Lady Gaga: Do you ever feel like just fucking crying?
And here is Julian, in conversation with Harrison, who is also his girlfriend:
Assange: My profile didn’t take off till the sex case. [It was] very high in media circles and intelligence circles, but it didn’t really take off, as if I was a globally recognized household name, it wasn’t till the sex case. So I was joking to one of our people, sex scandal every six months.
Harrison: That was me you were joking to. And I died a little bit inside.
Assange: Come on. It’s a platform.