Storyville: Zero Days
9pm, BBC Four
In the week that sees the inauguration of the USA’s 45th President, the news remains awash with stories about various prongs of cyberwar. Recently, most attention has been given to the allegations concerning Russian interference in the 2016 US election: the hacking of the Democratic Party and leaking of damaging information; and the state-sponsored creation of fake newsites spreading false stories similarly detrimental to Hilary Clinton’s campaign.
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Unsettling as this activity is, it’s just the digital-age spin on the age-old black arts of spying and propaganda. More alarming, however, is the potential for “hard” cyberwarfare: attacks that go beyond hacks and misinformation, to directly disrupt the physical world – sabotage by software that can shut things down, blow things up, take actual lives.
This is the stuff of Hollywood techno-thrillers, of course. But, as Zero Days, a disturbing documentary by the prolific Alex Gibney, spells out in clear detail, it has also been our reality for at least seven years. Gibney’s film raises several troubling issues, but its specific subject is the Stuxnet virus, a malware first spotted in the wild by an independent anti-virus advisor in Belarus in 2010. As the online security community grew alert to its presence, it became apparent Stuxnet was worming its malicious way through computers all around the world. But what the hell it was remained unknown. The first part of Zero Days recounts how analysts set to unpicking the code, and how two things gradually became clear. First, that the virus was of a dizzying sophistication, unimaginable without vast resources behind it – those of a nation state. Second, that, while it had shown up everywhere, Stuxnet was infecting one country more than any other: Iran.
Add in clues provided by the geopolitical context – when Iran’s then-president Ahmadinejad was pugnaciously pushing his nuclear programme, while simultaneously declaring Israel would be “wiped off the face of the earth” – and the truth about Stuxnet was soon established. The virus was developed in a joint covert operation between the US and Israeli governments (with input from others, including the UK), designed to attack and cripple Iran’s nuclear facilities by making their centrifuges spin out of control.
This, anyway, is the truth everyone who has investigated Stuxnet – or “Olympic Games” as the project was apparently known internally – agrees upon, and which Gibney offers overwhelming evidence in support of. But neither Israel nor America admit any involvement, a situation that lends this documentary a paranoid wonderland flavour. Gibney succeeds in securing on-camera interviews with many high-profile government officials, who then spend their time telling him they’re not allowed to tell him anything, or even admit anything happened.
The implications of such secrecy itself becomes a subject, and the Stuxnet story would be fascinating enough if it stopped there. But, like any good worm, it doesn’t. “Olympic Games” was only the precursor to another planned secret cyberoperation codenamed “Nitro Zeus,” a larger-scale assault designed to cripple Iran’s infrastructure, since put on hold (for now). Meanwhile, Gibney traces how cyberwarriors working for Iran have retaliated, launching their own malware attacks against American banks and other institutions.
This hugely timely film, then, is the story of the planet’s first cyber weapon and the weapons race it has let loose. Among the contributors, former CIA Director Michael Hayden makes the direct comparison with the bombing of Hiroshima: “This has a whiff of August 1945. Somebody just used a new weapon, and this weapon will not be put back in the box.” If you need something else to worry about this week, don’t miss it.
Arriving today, this 10-part supernatural sci-fi is the latest in the wave of Big Mystery dramas ushered in by JJ Abrams’s Lost, in which the biggest mystery is whether or not it will turn out to have been worthwhile sitting through it all just to get to the end. The concept, which takes a while and a lot of explanation to reveal itself, is our three unrelated protagonists are all dreaming parts of the same dream: Tess, a trend-spotter by trade, is convinced she’s just had a baby, but maybe she dreamt it; Burton, a millionaire security expert, dreams about an enigmatic woman in red; and New York cop Taka is investigating a mass suicide while dreaming of when his sick elderly mother wasn’t sick or elderly. How all of these begin to connect remains to be seen, as the show slides slowly and fairly humourlessly along and “real” life collides with the dream logic world. It might begin to grip later, but the early episodes are a bit of a slog.
Meet The Trumps: From Immigrant To President
10pm, Channel 4
For the obvious insane reason, there are a few Donald Trump documentaries kicking around this week. Look out on Monday for President Trump’s Dirty Secrets (Channel 4, 8pm), a Dispatches investigation into how, while promising to “drain the swamp” of outside interests in Washington DC, the incoming president has crammed his team with billionaire chums of the gas and oil conglomerates, and the implications of this for climate policy. Also on Monday, Panorama (8.30pm, BBC Two) considers Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, tonight’s profile offers a vivid thumbnail sketch of the 45th US President’s life and times. The family story begins with two tales of immigration: a German grandfather who arrived penniless in 1880s America and ended up running brothels in the gold rush; and Trump’s famously Scottish mother, who travelled from the Outer Hebrides to New York and worked as a maid before marrying Donald’s property tycoon father, Fred. Trivia note: Donald’s dad’s middle name was “Christ.”
9pm, BBC Two
The kind of thing that makes you proud of the BBC, unless you’re a politician. This important and incredibly timely series – a forensic examination of the crisis facing the NHS as it plays out on the wards – continues with another episode set in St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, where, with nearly all of its 297 beds occupied, staff must discharge patients before any new ones can be admitted. But while the hospital struggles to discharge patients, new ones keep arriving. We follow the work of Sister Alice Markey, who is trying to discharge a homeless Polish man, but until she can find a translator to explain what will happen to him when he leaves, he must remain in a hospital bed. Elsewhere, after breaking her ankle, 91-year-old Dolly has been in hospital for three weeks, and waits for a place to become available in a rehabilitation centre. Meanwhile, after a two-month wait, a man arrives for a potentially lifesaving operation – but unless the hospital staff can clear a bed, it won’t go ahead.
We’re at the halfway stage of the series now, which can only mean one thing: time to bring out the Wendy Craig. The Butterflies legend was previously glimpsed in episode one, but her character, Joy Dunphy, comes into closer view tonight, as DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) interviews her, hoping to learn just why Joy’s address was written on the travelcard found among the possessions of David Walker, the victim murdered 26 years ago. Brilliantly, this also means that Cassie finally goes on to speak with Joy’s daughter, Marion, played by Rosie Cavaliero, who does the full Cavaliero as the two of them have an uncomfortable exchange. (One of the best things in this second series is how it has paired Cavaliero and Nigel Lindsay as a couple, making it a spin-off from Mid Morning Matters With Alan Partridge, in my head at least.) Elsewhere, DS Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) meets the murdered man’s oldest friend, whose revelations shed new light on the case. A good episode tonight...
President Trump: The Inauguration
4pm, BBC One/ STV
After a long absence, The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have dabbled often with alternative history stories – among the most common is the “What If The Nazis Had Won The Second World War” setting – but this huge interactive virtual reality project, which will unfold on TV, in the press, and on Twitter over the next four years, sets out to build an ongoing alternative present. The story begins in a nightmarish version of 2017 in which huge sections of the US electorate have somehow been duped into voting to make Donald Trump president. It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible. Today’s feature-length opener concentrates on the gaudy inauguration of President Trump, and the stirrings of protest and despair surrounding the ceremony, while pundits speculate gravely on what lies ahead. It’s a flawed piece, but a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into, if we’re not careful.
7pm, Sky Arts
This new comedy series uses some of the oddest stories doing the rounds about famous figures as the basis for strange little one-off plays. Future programmes involve Hitler, Samuel Beckett and (all together in the same episode) Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. But it begins in fine style with one of the most please-let-this-be-true legends in the enchanted life of Bob Dylan. The story goes that, in 1993, Dylan (played by Eddie Marsan) flew into London unannounced, planning to visit his pal, Eurythmic Dave Stewart, at his studio in Crouch End. Due to a slight mix up in the address, however, when Dylan got out of his cab, he wound up knocking on the door of a house around the corner. When a woman answered, Dylan asked if Dave was in, and she replied he’d popped out, but would be back soon, and he was welcome to wait. And so, when her husband – a plumber called Dave (Paul Ritter) – arrived home, he found Bob Dylan sitting drinking tea in his living room ...