Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Movie Review: Zero Days

Zero Days
Directed by: Alex Gibney.
Written by: Alex Gibney.
Alex Gibney is one of the most prolific documentary filmmakers working today – as hardly a year goes by when he doesn’t have at least one, and sometimes two or three, movies opening. While his interests are wide ranging, he often does go directly into the political. In films like Client 9, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, Gibney doesn’t so much uncover a bunch of shocking information about his subjects, as he is able to assemble all the information we do know in one, two hour package that acts as a smart overview of a complex subject. Zero Days is somewhat different – at least for me – because it tells a story that I wasn’t overly familiar with – but has huge ramifications, even if people are not much talking about it. Sooner or later, we will.
Zero Days is about the STUXNET malware virus – described as the most destructive piece of Malware ever created. In the wake of America’s invasion of Iraq – and the disastrous consequences that followed – President George W. Bush faced another challenge – the threat of Iran getting nuclear weapons, and Israel’s intent to bomb Iran to get them to stop. No matter scenario American intelligence came up, it all ended the same way – they would have to get involved in another war in a Middle Eastern country, because Israel couldn’t win this one on their own. Bush didn’t like that he – and future Presidents – only seemed to have two options when it came to Iran – an Iran with nuclear weapons, or an Iran that America had to nuke. Intelligence eventually gave him another option – cyber warfare. What the Stuxnet malware did was infect the Iranian nuclear system – causing their centrifuge’s to spin either too fast or too slow – and self-destruct to get what was necessary. The virus worked – but it wasn’t really a success. After all, it didn’t stop Iran – it just slowed them down. And it introduced Cyber Warfare into the mix – something that countries are using on each other – perhaps in more and more damaging ways, as they find ways to escalate to scarier and scarier levels.
What’s frustrating about Gibney’s doc – to him more than anyone – is that no one involved will actually talk to him about Stuxnet – or anything else. Person after person – from American or Israeli intelligence – comes onto the screen basically to say that they don’t know anything about it, and even if they did, they cannot talk about it. This is true even though Stuxnet happened years ago – started in the Bush years, and continued into the Obama years – but it remains “over” classified. While most would think it reasonable that the government keep some secrets from its citizens when it comes to intelligence gathering and National Security, etc. – what Zero Days makes clear is that government wants to keep this so secret that even though it’s in the public domain in some ways, they will not allow anyone involved to talk about it. This not only stifles debate – but makes it virtually impossible. How can citizens or elected officials know what is being done in their name, if no one will talk about it?
The consequences, of course, can be severe. Iran has already retaliated against America. Russia hacked into the DNC computers for the express purpose of swaying an American Presidential election (whether it was those e-mails or not that helped Trump win, I don’t know – but it sure didn’t help Clinton). Everyone had a big laugh about Trump’s comment at the debate about not knowing if it was Russia or China or some 400 pound guy in his parent’s basement – but this is serious and scary stuff. And now Trump, who seems to have no idea what the hell he’s talking about when it comes to Cyber Warfare (among other things) will be in charge – a thought that should scare us all.

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