Persons of Interest is a four part series where former activists and political dissidents are given their previously secret ASIO files and asked to explain the allegations contained in them. As a result, the series unravels the hidden political and cultural history of Australia that is still being unmasked today in a world gripped by confirmations of mass surveillance abuses by ASIO and other intelligence agencies such as the NSA in the United States. Using the content of the ASIO records themselves along with genuine surveillance footage, this series tells the story of spies, traitors and intelligence intrigue in Australia against a backdrop of the big political events of the 20th century; at a time when fear of Communism, outsiders and threats to the established order fostered the construction of a vast and secret network of surveillance on ordinary people.
In March 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, took hundreds of secret documents out, and mailed them to newspapers across the country to share them with the public. The group, calling themselves The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, undertook the actions at a time where suspicions about systemic abuse and manipulation of social and political movements by intelligence agencies were running high in the context of the Vietnam war and 1960s counter-culture. In doing so, these citizens uncovered the FBI’s vast and illegal regimes, leading to insights about mass surveillance, intimidation, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers for manipulation, and sabotage. Much of this would later go on to be known as part of a covert program called COINTELPRO that was run directly by J. Edgar Hoover to destroy social change movements—a history that is imperative to understand in the context of today, where state repression of social change movements continues.
The United States of Secrets chronologically accounts the Bush administration’s embrace of illegal and widespread dragnet surveillance and eavesdropping programmes, along with the Obama administration’s decision to not only continue them, but to dramatically expand them—despite denials and promises to the contrary. By weaving narratives by those who sought to blow the whistle on these programmes over the decades—culminating with Edward Snowden’s unprecedented dump of insider documents in 2013—we see how and why those inside the NSA and other government agencies came to act; what actions were effective, and what role the mainstream media had and continues to have in keeping such secret projects alive and untouchable in the name of ‘national security.’
Governments all around the world are using high-tech mass surveillance tools to monitor their citizens. Western corporations, including Britain’s largest weapons manufacturer, BAE, are among those which are creating and selling mass surveillance infrastructures all across the globe, but especially to particularly repressive regimes. Weapons of Mass Surveillance makes example of what is happening throughout the Middle East where journalists, human rights advocates and activists are being targeted with surveillance tools developed by western corporations with extreme real-world consequences. Political opponents to tyrannical power are targeted, jailed, and in some cases, tortured or “disappeared.” This shows the power of mass surveillance tools for great harm, and how the west is culpable in perpetuating systemic repression both at home and abroad.
In 1978, Australia was shocked by the explosion of a massive bomb placed in a rubbish bin outside the Sydney Hilton Hotel in NSW. The perpetrators were never found. However, evidence that the Australian security and intelligence forces may have been responsible resulted in the NSW State Parliament unanimously calling for an inquiry in 1991 and then again in 1995. The Federal Government vetoed any inquiry. No investigation was held. The government then set-up the Australian Federal Police and increased support for “anti-terrorist measures”…
The Program is a short film focusing on William Binney—a former highly placed intelligence official with the United States National Security Agency, turned whistleblower after revelations that a system he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward for domestic spying at the behest of the Bush administration in 2001. For this, Binney resigned in October of that year and later began speaking publicly. He is among a group of NSA whistle-blowers, including Thomas A. Drake, who have each risked everything—their livelihoods, freedom, and personal relationships—to warn everyone about the dangers of the current era of mass surveillance.
Nothing to Hide questions the growing surveillance state and its acceptance by the general public through the thought-terminating cliché, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” argument. What is shown is that this logic is incredibly complacent and dangerous, even just from a historical perspective, considering authoritarian regimes, past and present. Nothing to Hide sets out to turn this acquiescence around, by weaving together expert commentary through real-life examples. A person agrees to be tracked as part of a small experiment, to show a small insight into the sorts of data trails that are revealed throughout our every-day lives. What is extrapolated from there is the incredible power and insight into our lives that these technologies provide. Insights which corporations and governments alike use for social control and profiling. What kind of society is being perpetuated for ourselves and future generations?
In March 2003 thousands of Australian troops and others were sent to fight a ‘war’ as part of a pre-emptive strike on the sovereign nation of Iraq, a country from whom there was no threat. Two years on, in the wake of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, the Australian military reports its first casualty in the conflict while the American death toll stands at nearly two thousand. This being the a result of an invasion which has all but destroyed a foreign nation and seen millions made homeless, families destroyed, hundreds of thousands of deaths, leaving a legacy of destruction and religious division instilled in its wake. How did the Australian government come to play a part in this terror?
Dirty Wars follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill into the hidden world of the United States’ covert wars and assassination programmes—from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. What begins as a relatively commonplace report on the cover-up of a murderous US night raid in a remote corner of Afghanistan, quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—a top secret arm of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex. As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is compelled to report on the growing chilling underworld of covert operations carried out across the globe at the behest of the United States government: Targeted killings of American citizens; secret drone strikes; outsourcing American kill lists to warlords, private corporations and paramilitaries. The list goes on. Dirty Wars is a sobering investigation and personal journey into the most important human rights story of our time.
Tracing the Internet’s history as a publicly-funded government project in the 1960s, to its full-scale commercialisation today, Digital Disconnect shows how the Internet’s so-called “democratising potential” has been radically compromised by the logic of capitalism, and the unaccountable power of a handful of telecom and tech monopolies. Based on the acclaimed book by media scholar Robert McChesney, the film examines the ongoing attack on the concept of net neutrality by telecom monopolies such as Comcast and Verizon, explores how internet giants like Facebook and Google have amassed huge profits by surreptitiously collecting our personal data and selling it to advertisers, and shows how these monopolies have routinely colluded with the national security state to advance covert mass surveillance programs. We also see how the rise of social media as a leading information source is working to isolate people into ideological information bubbles and elevate propaganda at the expense of real journalism. But while most debates about the Internet focus on issues like the personal impact of Internet-addiction or the rampant data-mining practices of companies like Facebook, Digital Disconnect digs deeper to show how capitalism itself turns the Internet against democracy. The result is an indispensable resource for helping viewers make sense of a technological revolution that has radically transformed virtually aspect of human communication.
Is American foreign policy dominated by the idea of military supremacy? Why We Fight examines America’s policies regarding making war, most recently the Iraq invasion and what is termed “the Bush doctrine” that includes pre-emptive strikes. This policy has been in the works for many years on reflection of the past wars of the 20th century alone. In this film, a variety of people are asked “Why We Fight?” with a variety of answers, followed by a look at today’s U.S. military industrial complex via interviews with individuals involved with it…
In January 2013, film-maker Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself Citizen Four. In it, he offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Poitras had already been working for several years on a film about mass surveillance programs in the United States, and so in June 2013, she went to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden. She was met there by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill. Several other meetings followed. Citizenfour is based on the recordings from these meetings. What follows is the largest confirmations of mass surveillance using official documents themselves, the world has never seen…
All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Legacy of I.F. Stone looks at an array of award-winning filmmakers who subscribed to I. F. Stone’s newsletter in their teens, revealing a new wave of independent, investigative, adversarial journalists following in Stone’s footsteps. Reflecting on his work during the era of McCarthyism, a chorus of independent journalists also reflect on today where giant media conglomerates are reluctant to investigate or criticise government policies—particularly on defence, security and intelligence issues. With government deception rampant, and intrusion of state surveillance into our private lives never before more egregious, independent journalists tell their story of being inspired by the iconoclastic Stone, whose fearless, independent reporting from 1953 to 1971 filled a tiny 4-page newsletter. Stone is little known today, but All Governments Lie reveals the profound influence he had on contemporary independent journalism.
During a town hall meeting in central Los Angeles 1996, then CIA Director John Deutch made an appearance on a panel of government representatives to refute documented allegations that the CIA had sold drugs in Los Angeles in order to finance covert operations in Central America. Questions are put forward by many people, including author and investigative journalist Michael Ruppert who explains of documented evidence of direct CIA involvement in drug trafficking, making mention of covert operations…
In 1966, Australia made an agreement with the United States that allowed the establishment of a secret military base satellite tracking station, just south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The facility is called Pine Gap and for more than forty years it has operated in a shroud of secrecy and been the target of much controversy. Home on The Range attempts to contextualise these issues by highlighting the history of the base and its origins, as well as the stories of controversy. Some of these include the Khemlani Affair and the sacking of the Whitlam government in 1975, the Christopher Boyce spy trial, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency and its former agent Victor Marchetti, as well as documenting the post-war culture of government secrecy, sprawling intelligence agencies and foreign affairs and policy. But Home on the Range does more than gesture toward such CIA interventions. It marshals a persuasive array of evidence linking the imminent expiry of leases on United States military and intelligence bases in Australia in 1975, to the CIA and Whitlam’s sacking, posing direct questions about the nature of democracy in regions beholden to the United States.
A Good American chronicles the work of whistleblower William Binney, a former official of the National Security Agency who specialised in cryptography and signals intelligence analysis for over three decades. The film focuses on the lead up to the events of the 1990s where Binney was instrumental in the creation of a secret intelligence program called ThinThread, in which mass surveillance of global communications data was carried out and had sophisticated analysis applied to it in search for threats in real time. However, three weeks prior to the September 11th 2001 attacks, Michael Hayden, director of the NSA, ends the ThinThread program to instead run with another called Trailblazer which lacks privacy protections. Not long after this, Binney resigns. What the NSA does to Binney after this turn of events is the story of the transformation where Binney and his colleagues Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Thomas Drake, and Diane Roark blow the whistle on a corrupt and brutal agency.
The Power Principle is a series of films examining the history of the United States and the building of its empire with particular emphasis on the last seventy years of United States foreign policy. The methods that make empire possible are also examined—the politics of fear, the rise of public relations, the ‘Mafia Principle’ and the reoccurring use of fabled enemies, contrasting the Soviet Union and the Cold War alongside the parallels of today with the “War On Terror”. Not only does The Power Principle tie together historical events to revive a common thread, the series may also encourage viewers to reconsider their understanding of historical events and the portrayal of them, showing how those in power play a role in manipulating the collective memory through generations.
The Secret Government, as its title suggests, is essentially an investigation into the processes, plans, operations and persons responsible for systemic abuses of power at senior levels of the United States government during the 1980s. The film covers multiple covert operations and secret projects, but takes a particular focus on the Iran–Contra affair of 1986, where Ronald Regan secretly facilitated the illegal sale of arms to Iran—which was the subject of an arms embargo at the time—to support a right-wing terrorist group called “The Contras,” and also make obscene profits from the sale of such weapons. Transported to the political happenings of today, The Secret Government is a call to remember history, and see that mass profits from weapons dealing running covert/secret wars were a reality then, and now, as well as to reveal just how far institutionalised propaganda and obfuscation works to conceal these home truths, still generations later.
MLK/FBI documents the extent of the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King based on newly declassified files and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and unsealed by the National Archives. Using these, as well as restored historical video footage, the film explores the United States government’s history of targeting Black activists through surveillance programs specifically aimed the Civil Rights Movement. The film covers the attempts by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to personally discredit King by collecting recordings and images of his private sexual life with women other than his wife. This was used to denigrate his status within the civil rights movement in the United States. Not all FBI documents have been declassified, but the whole record will be made available public in 2027.
The Revolution Business examines the role of United States intelligence agencies in the recent revolutionary movements such as the Arab Spring and others by the use of “Revolution Consultants.” Of particular interest is a Serbian man Srđa Popović, who formed an organisation called Отпор! (Otpor) which tought “non-violent struggle” in the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia during the 1990s, and which has now gone on to inspire a new generation of activists. However, some political commentators like William Engdahl are convinced that Otpor is financed by the United States and has ties to intelligence agenices, also having dubious funding from sources such as the Rand Corporation, the Department of Defence, as well as various fronts such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the US Institute of Peace and the Ford Foundation—all of which have a long history of collaborating with the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA in destabilising movements and usurping popular uprisings, removing their teeth.
A secret illegal project from the 1950s, 60s and 70s called COINTELPRO, represents the state’s strategy to prevent resistance movements and communities from achieving their ends of racial justice, social equality and human rights. The program was mandated by the United States’ FBI, formally inscribing a conspiracy to destroy social movements, as well as mount institutionalised attacks against allies of such movements and other key organisations. Some of the goals were to disrupt, divide, and destroy movements, as well as instilling paranoia, manipulation by surveillance, imprisonment, and even outright murder of key figures of movements and other people. Many of the government’s crimes are still unknown. Through interviews with activists who experienced these abuses first-hand, COINTELPRO 101 opens the door to understanding this history, with the intended audience being the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the 60s and 70s; where illegal surveillance, disruption, and outright murder committed by the government was rampant and rapacious. This film stands to provide an educational introduction to a period of intense repression, to draw many relevant and important lessons for the present and the future of social justice.
(T)error is the story of a 62-year-old Theodore Shelby, a former Black Panther now turned informant for the FBI going under the name Saeed “Shariff” Torres. The film documents his work on an undercover sting operation that targets a Muslim American Khalifah Ali Al-Akili on weapons charges, as well as Tarik Shah, a professional jazz musician, accused of providing support to al-Qaeda, even though no actual terrorist contact ever took place. The cases are used as examples of preemptive prosecutions, and illuminate aspects of the surveillance state in the post-9/11 world of the United States.
Counter-Intelligence is a 5 part series that explores in-depth, the vast, sprawling and secret National Security State that operates throughout the United States—and indeed the world. The series examines the foundations of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, charting through to the myriad consequences in today’s world where secret intelligence organisations continue to hijack governments, manipulate elections and commit heinous crimes against humanity—all under the cloak of “National Security”. In the wake of the continued revelations of the NSA PRISM program, this series is now more important than ever to provide a solid historical context to the workings of the rapacious and ever-expanding National Security State…
Peter Francis, a former undercover police spy turned conscientious whistleblower, breaks ranks by speaking to the media after becoming troubled by the unaccountable culture of secret police operations throughout the United Kingdom targeting peace activists for decades. Tactics included undercover police officers having sexual relationships with activists, even going as far as commonly having children with the women they were spying on. Undercover agents also often assumed the identities of dead children in order to have “solid cover stories.” We also see how undercover police were asked to look for intelligence that could be used to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and their campaign. The Lawrence family both speak of their shock at hearing about that the police did this to them. This short investigation opens a flood of questions about the secret history of covert police operations, and indeed the future of them in the context of the sprawling surveillance state of today.
The 1953 Iranian coup d’état was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in favour of strengthening the monarchical rule of the Shah for the purposes of foreign access to Iran’s oil. BP was at the heart of this story. The operation was orchestrated by the United States under the name TPAJAX Project (Operation Ajax) and the United Kingdom under the name Operation Boot. While making a documentary about this CIA/MI6 coup, Iranian director Taghi Amirani and editor Walter Murch discover never seen before archive material hidden for decades. The 16mm footage and documents not only allow the filmmakers to tell the story of the overthrow of the Iranian government in unprecedented detail, but also leads to explosive revelations about dark secrets buried for 67 years. Working with Ralph Fiennes to help bring the lost material to life, what begins as a historical documentary about four days in August 1953 turns into a live investigation, taking the film-makers into uncharted cinematic territory.
Informant follows the story of Brandon Darby—a radical-left activist turned FBI informant through a series of events starting with community support work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the Republican National Convention in 2008. Brandon ends up turning fellow activists to the FBI for making Molotov cocktails in circumstances described by fellow activists as entrapment. So what happened? Did Brandon manipulate fellow activists into doing things they didn’t want to do, or were some activists simply not engaging in a full analysis of the effectiveness of their strategies and tactics? In any event, was turning over activists to the FBI the right thing to do, even when nobody was hurt?
HyperNormalisation wades through the culmination of forces that have driven this culture into mass uncertainty, confusion, spectacle and simulation. Where events keep happening that seem crazy, inexplicable and out of control—from Donald Trump to Brexit, to the War in Syria, mass immigration, extreme disparity in wealth, and increasing bomb attacks in the West—this film shows a basis to not only why these chaotic events are happening, but also why we, as well as those in power, may not understand them. We have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. And because it is reflected all around us, ubiquitous, we accept it as normal. This epic narrative of how we got here spans over 40 years, with an extraordinary cast of characters—the Assad dynasty, Donald Trump, Henry Kissinger, Patti Smith, early performance artists in New York, President Putin, Japanese gangsters, suicide bombers, Colonel Gaddafi and the Internet. HyperNormalisation weaves these historical narratives back together to show how today’s fake and hollow world was created and is sustained. This shows that a new kind of resistance must be imagined and actioned, as well as an unprecedented reawakening in a time where it matters like never before.
In the Arab-American neighbourhood outside of Chicago where director Assia Boundaoui grew up, most of her neighbours think they have been under surveillance for over a decade. While investigating their experiences, Assia uncovers hundreds of pages of Operation Vulgar Betrayal, FBI documents that prove her hometown was the subject of one of the largest counter-terrorism investigations ever conducted in the United States before September 2001. No arrests or links to terrorist activity were ever made from the operation. The Feeling of Being Watched follows the examination of why a community fell under blanket government surveillance, the government secrecy shrouding what happened, and why her community feels like they’re still being watched today.
How did two childhood friends from Midland, Texas end up arrested on terrorism charges at the 2008 Republican National Convention? Better This World follows the journey of David McKay and Bradley Crowder from activist beginners to accused domestic terrorists with a particular focus on the relationship they develop with an FBI informant named Brandon Darby in six months leading up to their arrests. Weaving through a story of entrapment, idealism, political struggle and ultimate betrayal, Better This World winds up at questions of the core machinery of the justice system and its impact on civil liberties and political dissent in the modern “post-9/11 world.”
Stuxnet is a malicious computer virus, first identified in 2010, that targets industrial computer systems and was responsible for causing substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as spreading across the world. The virus is believed by many experts to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyberweapon, although no organisation or state has officially admitted responsibility. Zero Days covers the phenomenon surrounding the Stuxnet computer virus and the development of the malware software known as “Olympic Games.” It also examines the follow-up cyber-plan entitled ‘Nitro Zeus,’ showing how the United States has opened the Pandora’s Box of cyberwarfare.