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Oscar-Nominated Filmmaker’s New Ambitious Feature Documentary on War on Whistleblowers

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The trailer for the documentary in production opens with a quote from writer George Orwell:

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

It is an appropriate setup for a film that Oscar-nominated filmmaker James Spione has set out to produce to show the unprecedented war on whistleblowers that the United States government has waged.

The film, Silenced, profiles Thomas Drake, former NSA employee who blew the whistle on NSA wiretapping; John Kiriakou, former CIA officer who blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture policy, pled guilty to releasing the name of an intelligence agent and is going to jail; Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on how John Walker Lindh was being treated when she uncovered information while working in the Justice Department; and Peter Van Buren, a former State Department employee who exposed corruption in the “reconstruction” of Iraq and was forced out of the department after he linked to a WikiLeaks cable on his blog.

On the Kickstarter page for the project, Spione describes why he has decided to make this film:

…I became increasingly interested in the issue of government transparency and accountability, and the ongoing efforts to punish those who reveal information about official wrongdoing, when working on Incident in New Baghdad. That film featured incendiary footage of a controversial U.S. helicopter attack purportedly released by a young U.S. Army Specialist named Bradley Manning, who is currently facing a court martial on charges that could result in a life prison sentence…

Incident in New Baghdad was Spione’s first “political” film. Focusing on Ethan McCord, an Iraq war veteran who can be seen in the “Collateral Murder” video rescuing children wounded in the attack, he became interested in him because the US media had not spoken to this individual, who actually witnessed the attack, when they covered the release of the video. He traveled to Wichita, Kansas, to interview McCord and realized McCord had an important story to tell. He made a short documentary that addressed the video from McCord’s perspective.

Following the success of that film, he has now committed himself to a much more ambitious project—a full-length feature documentary on what it takes for an “individual of conscience” to speak out.

“Though Incident was not directly about Manning,” he writes, “The experience of making it got me to thinking about the power of information: who controls and classifies it, who is allowed to release it, who is rewarded for its use and who is punished.” Drake, Kiriakou, Radack and Van Buren have each faced consequences for talking about what they witnessed or knew while working in government.

Backers of the film have already pledged $7,900. Spione and the production crew involved are hoping to raise $35,000 by March 14. And the film has received the support of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who made a donation days ago.

When completed, Silenced has the potential to be a critical documentary on a key aspect of history under President Barack Obama’s administration. It is Obama who has allowed a World War I-era law, the Espionage Act, to be used to go after a record number of whistleblowers or alleged leakers.

Each of the stories of Drake, Kiriakou, Radack and Van Buren are stirring on their own. When explored all at once in the span of a feature documentary, there is no doubt it will force viewers to confront the truth of how far the US government is willing to go to conceal wrongdoing and protect its secrets.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."