The Outrage Documentary, that well known subgenre of alarmist reportage, is severely challenged these days to raise the quotient of outrageousness. Things are already pretty dire. Earth is apparently dying. The world’s population is exploding, and they’re all trying to sneak into our back yard in search of food. Large corporations are still greedy beyond belief. Armed conflicts show no signs of ending, etc. But leave it to Alex Gibney, in his new release Zero Days, to dig up a brand new, urgently compelling outrage: There’s a cyberwar going on and you and I are in the middle of it, along with the US intelligence community, Israel, and Iran.
The strange bedfellows came to the forefront for pre-eminent documentarian Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side and We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks) when he first learned about Stuxnet, a form of self-replicating computer malware, aka “worm.” Legend has it that the US and Israel used “worm” to penetrate and take down parts of the Iranian nuclear research program, circa 2009, as an alternative to a nuclear attack on Iran. Trouble developed, however, when the infrastructure-destroying worm proved un-tameable, leading to a worldwide secret battle — their hackers vs. ours, completely covert, with no public admission that it ever happened — to control this suddenly weaponized technology.
Gibney lays out all that portends in impeccable signature fashion. He’s also in cahoots with software engineers and Stuxnet “detectives” Eric Chien and Liam O’Murchu of Symantec, who help to point out that among the three degrees of virus-starters — cyber-criminals, hacktivists, and nation states — it’s the nation-states we have to be most worried about, because of the politics. In a Q-and-A after a press screening of the film, Gibney admitted that getting to the bottom of the Stuxnet story, prompted by a leak, was never a neat and tidy job. No one’s officially talking. Zero Days is more than a computer story. It’s open-ended, challenging, and may keep you awake at night. What better recommendation for outrage junkies?