I hear the Time Warner-backed premium broadcaster is working up the project as a limited drama with Stephen Schiff (The Americans) writing, and Oscar-winning documentarian Gibney set to direct as well as produce alongside Marc Shmuger. Carnival Films, the British production company run by Gareth Neame that is part of NBCUniversal International Studios, is working with Participant Media on the series.
Stuxnet is based on Gibney’s cyberwarfare documentary Zero Days, which came out in 2016 from Showtime Documentary Films, and is the first time that the complete story of the phenomenon was captured on film. Schiff (left), who has written on the FX spy drama since 2014, is writing the series and sold the show to HBO in the room. He formerly wrote for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker and has written a number of screenplays.
The dramatic thriller will focus on the spread of a self-replicating computer virus developed by the West to disable and destroy nuclear facilities in the Middle East.
The drama will tell a tale of hackers, spies, nuclear secrets, and how one clandestine mission opens the Pandora’s Box of cyber-warfare forever – a new era of global conflict without rules.
It is now generally acknowledged that in the mid-to-late 2000s, the U.S. and Israel jointly developed Stuxnet, one of the most elegant, ingenious and terrifying pieces of malware ever created, which was used to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Stuxnet was originally designed as an invisible tool for covert operations, which would aid in sabotaging Iran’s program —but when Israel went rogue, modifying and transmitting a far more aggressive version of the Stuxnet worm without U.S. approval, missteps on their part led Iran to uncover the identity of their assailants, opening the door to a new, unregulated era of cyber warfare.
Gibney previously told Deadline, “I first came across it when I was doing We Steal Secrets—the Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning film—and it was really pointed out to me by Marc Shmuger, who’s a producer on the film. I thought it was interesting, but at the time, I thought it was a purely sort of “Gee Whiz,” Tom Swift technical story. I didn’t understand at the time that it was something deeply fundamental about where we were heading, in terms of spying and cyber conflict. That didn’t happen until we started to make the film.”
The Taxi to the Dark Side director said that while it slowed down the ability of Iran to get a nuclear weapon, it “set in motion a new kind of arms race.”
“It sent another kind of message, too, which is, the United States and Israel will use weapons and attack people first, and that sets a different kind of precedent for other countries, as well: Why shouldn’t we do the same? You can say that what we did with Stuxnet was an undeclared act of war—it was an attack on critical infrastructure in a time of peace. That sets a terrible legal precedent. Right now, the norm in cyber is, do whatever you can get away with. Well, if you’re an average citizen, that’s not a very comforting idea,” he said.
The deal is the latest U.S. deal for Carnival Films’ boss Neame, who is currently producing Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey spinoff The Gilded Age. Carnival is also adapting The Awkward Age for the BBC and is working on the second season of Sky drama Jamestown.