A GOOD AMERICAN
AUSTRIA, USA 100 MIN
A codebreaker genius, a revolutionary surveillance program and corruption across the board of NSA. Against this backdrop unfolds the feature documentary A GOOD AMERICAN. The film tells the story of Bill Binney and his program ThinThread and how this perfect alternative to mass surveillance got ditched by NSA for money 3 weeks prior to 9/11.
Producer, director, DoP. Friedrich holds a university degree (MA) in history and german studies from the University of Salzburg / Austria. Friedrich started his professional career as a TV journalist and editor in Bolzano-Bozen / Italy. In 2001 he founded blue+green communication. He has made over 20 documentaries in the past years, most of them as producer / director / DoP. In 2008 he attended successfully the Documentary Campus, the European Masterschool for non-fiction filmmaking. Friedrich’s professional career also includes lecturing on history and documentaries at the University of Vienna / Department of Economic and Social History, as well as teaching video production at the Secondary School for Commercial.
- CPH:DOX Copenaghen, Denmark 2015
- NYC DOC New York, USA 2015
- Palm Springs IFF, USA 2016
- IFF Rotterdam, Netetherlands 2016
For two years I had been working on a film about a young German hacktivist supporting the democrating uprise of the Arab Spring. He had run into American surveillance technology illegally employed by the Syrian government. I had just learned that the same surveillance software was equally illegaly used by almost all of Europe’s governments, when in May 2013 the Edward Snowden story broke. As everybody started pointing at the United States’ National Security Agency and booing I said to myself – wait a minute! When I was doing my military service back in 1988, weren’t we happy with the Red Army at our borders that NSA was sitting in our listening posts and spying on the Soviets? So when did they shift their surveillance activities from our enemies towards us, the citizens? And why?
Maybe the personal story of a long-time NSA-employee would reflect that. I went through my list of interviewees and I stumbled over Bill Binney. Working for the NSA for 30 years, then quitting, then becoming a whistleblower – there had to be a story. In late October 2013 we met for four days of interviews and background talks – and Bill told me the most amazing story I had heard in my life.
I have always loved spy films. The Third Man, The Spy Who Came From The Cold, Three Days Of The Condor, the noirs of the 60s and 70s all the way up to James Bond, Jason Bourne and Syriana - and now I was sitting next to Bill Binney, recording how he had hacked the Soviet Union using metadata and how he and a bunch of dedicated people had built the most powerful analysis tool in history, a program that would have prevented 9/11, hadn’t it been dumped by Michael Hayden and his fellows for a billion dollar fantasy three weeks prior to the event.
To me, A GOOD AMERICAN is a film about morals. It is certainly not about technology, although the story of a software program would suggest that. It is not about politics. Or about national security. My film is about those old school values that seem to have vanished over the past decades. Bill Binney is a crypto-mathematical genius. Yet he is of a modesty and decency that is simply astounding. He is both thoughtful and empathetic. And Bill is a true patriot. But none of waving the flag and shouting. He simply cares very deeply about his country and the values it used to stand for: Freedom, democracy, justice, the rule of law, pluralism, diversity, creativity, ingenuity, hard-work ethics paired with a good sense of humour. When Dick Cheney and Michael Hayden introduced mass-surveillance and torture after 9/11 it was the ultimate betrayal of everything Bill Binney had fought for in his entire life and career. Therefore it was only natural that he didn’t buy into this perversion of national security and the rampant corruption, that he stood tall despite what the military industrial surveillance machinery was doing to him. I couldn’t think of anything more American than that.
Maybe the world isn’t that grey and nuanced everybody wants to make us believe. Maybe there is a clear moral compass. One day my kids will ask me: What did you do, when they introduced that totalitarian system of surveillance? just as I had asked my grandparents about the Nazi period. I was always proud that they had kept their compass – even on the Dark Side. Because sometimes in life it simply boils down to being either good or bad. This is why I call the film A GOOD AMERICAN.
Let IT dok! 2016