"Official Secrets," which opened on Friday in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, is the best film ever made about the Iraq war. It is amazingly accurate and, for that reason, just as inspirational, demoralizing, hopeful and angry. Please take a look.
It has now been forgotten, but the Iraq war and its heinous consequences – the hundreds of thousands of dead, the rise of the Islamic state group, the nightmare in Syria, presumably the presidency of Donald Trump – almost never happened. In the weeks leading up to the US-led invasion of March 19, 2003, the American and British wars collapsed. It looked like a maligned Jalopy, whose engine was smoking and its parts were falling off as it rolled down the street.
For this brief moment, George W. Bush's administration seemed to have gone too far. It would be extremely difficult for the US to invade its side without the UK, its faithful mini-me. But in Britain, the idea of war was deeply unpopular without the consent of the United Nations Security Council. In addition, we now know that British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith had informed Prime Minister Tony Blair that an Iraq resolution passed by the Security Council in November 2002 "would not allow the use of military force without another Security Council decision. (The Federal Foreign Office's chief lawyer, the British equivalent of the US State Department, made it even clearer: "Using violence without the authority of the Security Council would be a crime of aggression.") So Blair absolutely wanted a thumbs-up from the United Nations To everyone's surprise, the Security Council from 1
On March 1, the British observer threw a grenade at this extremely strained situation: an e-mail from a National Security Agency manager leaked on January 31. The NSA manager called for a full spy press trial against members of the Security Council – "of course without the US and GBR," the manager said jokingly – and outside the Security Council, which may produce useful chatter.
This showed that Bush and Blair, both of whom had said they wanted the Security Council to vote on a resolution containing a legal stamp for war sanctioning, bluffed. They knew they would lose. It appeared that while they claimed to have invaded Iraq because they were concerned about maintaining the United States' effectiveness, they were keen to put pressure on their United States colleagues, including the collection of blackmail material. It turned out that the plan of the NSA was unusual enough that someone in the world of the labyrinthine secret services was so upset that he or she risked going to jail for a long time.
This person was Katharine Gun.
Played Gun was a clever translator in General Secrets of Keira Knightley at the General Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA. On one level, "Official Secrets" is a simple, exciting drama about her. They learn how she received the e-mail, why she leaked her, how she did it, why she stood up, faced the dire consequences, and the unique legal strategy that forced the British government to to drop all charges against her. At the time, Daniel Ellsberg said her actions were "more up-to-date and possibly more important than the Pentagon Papers … Truth-Finding Can Stop a War".
In a more subtle way, the film asks this question: Why not? Does the leak make a real difference? Yes, it has contributed to the opposition in the Security Council to the United States and Britain, who never voted on another Iraq resolution because Bush and Blair knew they would lose. Nevertheless, Blair was able to shake off this and a few weeks later received a vote by the British Parliament to endorse his war.
There is one main answer to this question, both in "official secrets" and in reality: the US corporate media. "Official Secrets" helps illustrate the ideological failure of the American press, who eagerly jumped on this grenade to rescue their Foxhole friends in the Bush administration.
It's easy to imagine a different story from the one we lived. British politicians as well as Americans are reluctant to criticize their intelligence services. However, serious prosecution of the Observer story by the US elite media would have caught the attention of members of the US Congress. This, in turn, would give British MPs room to resist an invasion and ask what is happening around the world. The reasons for the war dissolved so quickly that even a modest delay could easily have led to an indeterminate shift. Both Bush and Blair knew that and that's why they made so much progress.
But in this world, between the date of its release in the UK and the beginning of the war, the New York Times literally did not publish anything about the NSA leak nearly three weeks later. The Washington Post has published a single 500-word article on page A17. Their headline: "Espionage Report no Shock to the United Nations" The Los Angeles Times also published an article before the war that said, "Fake or no, some say there's nothing to get worked up about." The former CIA lawyer suggested the e-mail was not genuine.
This was the most fertile line of attack on the observer's story. As "Official Secrets" shows, American television was initially very interested in getting one of the Observer reporters on air. These invitations quickly disappeared when the Drudge Report claimed that the email was obviously fake. Why? Because it used British spellings of words like "cheap" and therefore could not have been written by an American.
In reality, the original leak used American spellings for the observer, but before publication, the staff of the paper's support had been accidentally changed to British versions without the reporters noticing. And, as always, TV stations in the US were crouching in the face of a right-wing assault in bitter terror. By the time the spelling errors were resolved, they had run a thousand miles from the observer's bucket and were not interested in revisiting them.
The low attention paid to the story was largely due to the journalist and activist Norman Solomon. and the organization he founded, the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA). Solomon had traveled to Baghdad only a few months earlier and co-authored the book "Target Iraq: What the News Media Don't Tell You," which was released at the end of January 2003.
Today, Solomon recalls that "I felt immediately related – and what I would call love – for anyone who took the tremendous risk of revealing the NSA memo. Of course, at the time, I had no idea who did it. He soon wrote a syndicated column titled "American Media Dodging UN Surveillance Story."
Why did not the file tell about it, Solomon asked Alison Smale, then acting foreign editor at the New York Times. "It's not that we did not care," Smale told him. The problem was that "we could not get confirmation or comment" via the NSA's e-mail from US officials. But "we're definitely testing it," Smale said. "It's not that we are not."
The Times did not mention Gun until January 2004, ten months later. Even then it was not displayed in the message area. Instead, Times columnist Bob Herbert examined the story at the urging of the IPA and took it, amazed at the fact that the news editors were over.
Well, at this point you may want to collapse in despair. But not. Because here is the unbelievable remnant of the story – something so complex and unlikely that it does not show up in "Official Secrets" at all.
Why did Gun decide to send the NSA e-mail? Only recently has she revealed some of her main motives.
"I was already very suspicious of the arguments for the war," she says by e-mail. So she went to a bookstore and went to the Politics Department looking for something about Iraq. She bought two books and read them this weekend. Together, they basically "convinced me that there is no real evidence of this war."
One of these books was "War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against the War on Iraq" by Milan Rai. The second was "Target Iraq," co-authored by Solomon.
"Target Iraq" was published by Context Books, a tiny company that soon went bankrupt. It was only a few weeks before Gun found it in the shops. A few days after she read it, her inbox received the NSA's January 31 email and she quickly decided what to do.
"I was stunned when Katharine said that the book, Target Iraq & # 39; had influenced her decision to reveal the NSA memo," Solomon says now. "I did not know how to understand it correctly [it]."
What does all this mean?
Journalists who are interested in journalism often feel they are crying senselessly. In the wind, you can never predict who will achieve your work and how it will affect them. The people in huge, powerful institutions are not all super villains in impermeable bubbles. Most are normal people who live in the same world as everyone else, and like everyone else, struggle to do the right thing as they see it. Take the opportunity seriously that you communicate with someone who might take action that you never expected.
For non-journalists and journalists, the lesson is: Do not be depressed. Both Solomon and Gun are deeply concerned that they have done everything to stop the Iraq war, and it has happened anyway. "I'm glad that a book I co-wrote had such ripple effects," says Solomon. "At the same time, I feel that it matters little what I feel."
But I think Gun and Solomon's sense of failure is the wrong view of what they did and what others can do. The people who tried to end the Vietnam War did not succeed until millions died, and many of these writers and activists also saw themselves as failures. But in the 1980s, when Reagan administration factions wanted to carry out major invasions in Latin America, they could not get them started due to the organizational and knowledge base that had been set up years earlier. The bitter fact that the US has opted for its second election – death squads that have slaughtered tens of thousands in the region – does not mean that Vietnam-style carpet bombs would not have been much worse.
Similarly, Gun, Solomon, and the millions of people fighting the looming Iraq war failed in some ways. But anyone who was careful knew that Iraq was only the first step in the USA's conquest of the entire Middle East. They did not prevent the Iraq war. But at least so far they have helped prevent the Iran war.
So, look at "Official Secrets" as it appears in a theater near you. You will rarely see a better picture of what it means for someone to make a real moral choice, even if they are uncertain, even if they are afraid and have no idea what will happen next.