A Good American at Světozor

The man who was not allowed to prevent 9/11 is the focus of a documentary

Whether or not you are a fan of conspiracy theories, you should not miss the screening of the outstanding Austrian documentary A Good American on Monday, Oct. 31, at 8.45 pm in Světozor Cinema. The main character of the film, William Binney, is an acclaimed programmer and a former analyst of the NSA, whose program ThinThread could have most probably prevented the terror attacks from 9/11 from happening. The remarkable title, supported by IDF within the East Silver programme was successfully screened at 27 international film festivals already and will have its Czech premiere in Světozor.

“After the Snowden revelations about NSA’s activities, I wanted to know when and how the intelligence services started to spy on us instead of spying on our enemies. I thought that I would likely get the answer to this question in my film through a story of one man. That’s when I contacted Bill Binney, whom I had already interviewed in my previous documentary. When he came at the end of October 2013 to Vienna and started telling me about the ThinThread program, with which I was completely unfamiliar, I was totally stunned. I could not believe that no one had made a movie about that so far,” Austrian documentary maker Friedrich Moser told the server austrianfilms.com.

In the same interview, the history and German studies graduate of the University of Salzburg and director of more than 20 documentaries admitted to his guilty pleasure: spy movies and spy stories from the 1960s and '70s. And even though William Binney cannot be considered a true U.S. spy, his activities during the Cold War were not so far from the work of the spies and secret agents of those days. At that time already he started working on a system capable of interpreting the patterns within the data (including the encrypted ones) not only on the basis of the monitored content. He was much more interested in who was talking to whom, how often and when exactly. Over the years, Binney became an ingenious programer and analyst, who made up his own theory of five “indicators” of military aggression and predicted among others the Soviet invasion in both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

During the following years, he had gradually developed a surveillance program called ThinThread that allowed analyzing data efficiently without violating people’s privacy. Nevertheless, out of hardly understandable reasons, this program did not impress the management of NSA, who decided to rather install a different program that was less efficient, definitely more expensive and provided the citizens with mass surveillance. This program was launched only three weeks prior to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“This film is a mental journey that takes you from a point where you have no idea about intelligence gathering to a point where you understand how the system works. At the world premiere of A Good American in Copenhagen in a theater with 650 seats, you could hear a needle drop. The same thing happened a week later in New York, people were glued to the screen. The film worked exactly how I had wanted it to work. I’m convinced as a citizen that we need a political change with regard to the way intelligence services work. It has to happen before the Internet of Things unfolds. With the Internet of Things, any given device may be operated remotely, your car may be stopped in the middle to the street, electricity might be shut down etc. These things are unfolding now. This will bring total control. If we don’t fix this now, we will run into a totalitarian nightmare that will exceed Orwell’s 1984 by far. People should think about it. This is not about technology; this is about principles. During the times of analog communication, there was a law that said, 'Whoever breaks an envelope is going to be punished.' We need the same thing here,” Friedrich Moser said.

A similar topic was also covered by the main protagonist of the formally outstanding and thrilling documentary, William Binney, during his speech to the Austrian parliament in late November 2015. The man who spent almost four decades working in the intelligence services emphasized the necessity to raise general awareness about the principles that have to be installed.“Technology changes, but principles have to remain if we want to stay democratic countries,” Binney said.

The English-friendly screening of the interesting, thought-provoking documentary by Friedrich Moser, praised by The Guardian and a “fascinating prequel to the story of Edward Snowden” according to Oliver Stone, is definitely worth seeing.

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