Zero Days

 

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An illuminating document challenging for the viewer but valuable for its revelations.

 
Zero Days
  

This, the latest documentary by Alex Gibney, is an important film but one that is quite demanding. Lasting  close on two hours it is nevertheless densely packed and will be easier going for those who unlike myself are knowledegable about modern technology. This applies particularly to the early stages when, after a telling montage of men refusing to talk about what became known as Stuxnet, it turns to those researchers whose job it is to investigate hacking and computer viruses. This leads directly to a complex explanation of how in 2010 these cyber detectives dealt with an exceptional example of malware created to cause damage. It was a self-replicating virus which they chose to name Stuxnet. This was recognisably an elaborate form of hacking possible only by some nation state, and it soon became clear that Iran was the prime target of Stuxnet and that in particular it was aimed at affecting that country's nuclear facility. From that it could be deduced that the nations most crucially involved in this cyber attack were America and Israel and David Sanger, a correspondent for the New York Times who took up the story, is seen in Gibney's film.

 

This action, given the code name of Olympic Games, is of obvious historical interest and not least because it saw American Intelligence moving beyond the gathering of information to taking the offensive with what could be thought of as cyber weapons, the use of which could indeed be regarded as an act of war (the film convincingly suggest that had the boot been on the other foot with America the country targeted the response would indeed have been to see it as warlike). But most crucial of all are three additional factors. First, there's the refusal by America and Israel (the latter depicted as bearing the heavier responsibility for the eventual outcome when Stuxnet's code was leaked) to admit to what they had done. Secondly, there's the fact that the world now has a device capable of causing physical destruction and of menacing human life which once set up and released is self-operating and beyond any form of control. Thirdly, a precedent has now been set which goes beyond Stuxnet itself to yet wider infiltration strategies and this could lead to other nations in any future war building on this new form of weaponry with devastating consequences for the whole world.

 

In telling this story Gibney thanks contributors to the film for their bravery since talking about these matters threatens to encroach on information which, in the hope of maintaining secrecy and preventing discussion of the issues which this invasion of cyberspace has created, has been given classified status. To explain the situation in full involves separate sections covering both the historical relationship between America and Iran linked to nuclear issues over the years and America's attitudes to nuclear weapons from Reagan onwards including action against Iraq's nuclear reactor. That such detailed background both of an historical and technological nature is involved makes the demands felt in this film understandable, but one does come to the conclusion that such material would be even more exhaustive and less exhausting in book form where the reader can proceed at his or her chosen pace, pausing and re-reading when necessary. That feeling is, fairly or not, reflected in my rating for this film, but it is a work that is unquestionably an honourable enterprise and watching it quite properly provides a very disturbing experience. A shorter version is due to be shown on television early in 2017 but the film deserves to be seen in full as per this cinema release.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  David Sanger, Eric Chien, Liam O'Murchu, Emad Kiyaei, Michael Hayden, Olli Heinonen, Ralph Langner, Gary D. Brown, Eugene Kapersky.

 

Dir Alex Gibney, Pro Alex Gibney, Olga Kuchmenko, Marc Shmuger and Javier Alberto Botero, Screenplay Alex Gibney, Ph Antonio Rossi, Avner Shahaf and Brett Wiley, Ed Andy Grieve and Hannah Vanderlan, Art Dir Rebecca Senn, Music Will Bates.

 

Participant Media/Global Produce/Jigsaw-Guerilla Films.
116 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 6 January 2017. No Cert.