In the new American cyberpower, only the revolving doors have changed. The director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, was an adviser to Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state in the Bush administration who lied that Saddam Hussein could attack the US with nuclear weapons. Cohen and Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt – they met in the ruins of Iraq – have co-authored a book, The New Digital Age, endorsed as visionary by the former CIA director Michael Hayden and the war criminals Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair. The authors make no mention of the Prism spying programme, revealed by Snowden, that provides the NSA with access to all of us who use Google.
Control and dominance are the two words that make sense of this. These are exercised by political, economic and military design, of which mass surveillance is an essential part, but also by insinuating propaganda into the public consciousness. This was Edward Bernays’s point. His two most successful PR campaigns convinced Americans that they should go to war in 1917 and persuaded women to smoke in public; cigarettes were “torches of freedom” that would hasten women’s liberation.
It is in popular culture that the fraudulent “ideal” of America as morally superior, a “leader of the free world”, has been most effective. Yet even during Hollywood’s most jingoistic periods there were exceptional films, such as those of the exiled Stanley Kubrick, and adventurous European films would find US distributors. These days there is no Kubrick, no Strangelove, and the US market is almost closed to foreign films.
When I showed my own film The War on Democracy to a major, liberal-minded US distributor, I was handed a laundry list of changes, to “ensure the movie is acceptable”. His memorable sop to me was: “OK, maybe we could drop in Sean Penn as narrator. Would that satisfy you?” Kathryn Bigelow’s torture-apologising Zero Dark Thirty and, this year, Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets, a cinematic hatchet job on Julian Assange, were made with generous backing by Universal Studios, whose parent company until recently was General Electric. GE manufactures weapons, components for fighter aircraft and advanced surveillance technology. The company also has lucrative interests in “liberated” Iraq.
The power of truth-tellers such as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden is that they dispel a whole mythology carefully constructed by the corporate cinema and the corporate media. WikiLeaks is especially dangerous because it provides truthtellers with a means to get the truth out. This was achieved by Collateral Damage, the cockpit video of a US Apache helicopter allegedly leaked by Manning. The impact of this one video marked Manning and Assange for state vengeance. Here were US airmen murdering journalists and maiming children in a Baghdad street, clearly enjoying it, and describing their atrocity as “nice”. Yet, in one vital sense, they did not get away with it; for we are all witnesses now, and the rest is up to us.