Aug. 13, 2013
Tom Secker is a British based writer, researcher and filmmaker who specialises in terrorism, the security services and declassified history. He has been writing on the philosophy and politics of fear since 2008. He also periodically contributes here on SmellsLikeHumanSpirit.com, and previously appeared on the Podcast in Episodes 12, 45, and 78. Below is his latest article, 'The CIA's role in Hollywood':
Secret agents are supposed to be secret but their existence is common knowledge. We know that they exist, but most people don't know what they get up to, what they actually do. The main reason for this is that the conventional news media coverage of intelligence agencies focuses almost exclusively on them gathering information, portraying them as passive observers of the shadowy underworlds that surround our 'civilisation'. Their active role in covertly wielding influence on both a small and large scale is essentially ignored.
The vacuum left by the absence of real-life news media reporting on the actions of the secret services is filled with spy-fi, or spy fiction. The world's most famous spy, James Bond, has been aped across the world, the US versions even sometimes bearing the same initials - Jack Bauer from 24 and Jason Bourne from the Bourne films are simple examples. Throughout the decades it has largely been British authors - Somerset Maugham in the 1930s, Ian Fleming in the 1950s, John le Carré and others since then - who set the tone and standards for spy-fi authors. Most of these people were themselves spies for the British security services - Maugham worked for MI6 during WW1, Fleming ran a naval intelligence commando unit during WW2, le Carré was MI5 and MI6.
It was in Fleming's James Bond novels in the 1950s that the CIA, at that time an agency whose existence was not officially admitted, were first named and portrayed. As recent research
by Dr Christopher Moran has shown, Fleming was friends with then-CIA director Allen Dulles, who was 'fascinated' by the Bond novels and in particular the gadgetry
. Over time the two became closer friends, to the extent that Dulles even asked Fleming to use his popular books to help portray the CIA in a positive light. Similarly, it was British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock who largely created the spy thriller genre in cinema in the inter-war period. It was in Hitchcock's late-50s film North by Northwest
that Hollywood first named and depicted the CIA. In both print and on the screen it was left to British creative talent to break the ground of public portraits of the CIA.
However, unlike Fleming and others, there is no evidence that Hitchcock himself ever worked for the security services, though he was spied on for a time by the FBI
. This included one incident in the early 1960s where an FBI mole at Revue Studios told the Bureau that a character in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents
was an 'improper portrayal of an FBI agent'. The Feds applied pressure and the character was watered down to being a private detective who used to work for the Bureau.
Much the same process continues today. The former head of MI5 Stella Rimington is writing popular spy-fi, the British security services provided 'former' officers as advisors on the hugely popular TV show Spooks
and the CIA is deeply involved in Hollywood. In my previous article
for this site I outlined how the CIA's first official entertainment industry liaison Chase Brandon recruited actress Jennifer Garner to appear in a CIA recruitment ad. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Chase Brandon was a technical consultant on the show Alias, which launched Garner to stardom. He was also a consultant on The Sum of All Fears (2002) and The Recruit (2003), both immediate post-9/11 films that depicted the CIA in an extremely favourable light. Just like the pre-9/11 Enemy of the State (1998) the images and stories in these films and TV shows are a synthesis of high-value production with the glory of the security state. Sexy young things run about and look confused for our amusement, while advanced technology spies on everything to provide the watching audience with a near-omniscient perspective. Two spectacles for the price of one, you might say.
One particular interesting nexus of connections is worthy of greater scrutiny. The Sum of All Fears starred Ben Affleck in the 'sexy young thing running about' role. Not long after, Affleck and Garner met while co-starring in the film Daredevil (2003) and they fell in love and got married in 2005. This is perhaps not at all surprising as they had a lot in common: they were born in the same year, were both rising stars, and had both worked on CIA-assisted productions. Since they met Garner appeared in a CIA recruitment ad (2004) and more recently Ben Affleck directed and starred in the Academy Award-winning film Argo (2012) which tells the largely true story of the CIA setting up a fake film company as the cover for a black operation. It is fair to say that they are not only one of Hollywood's favourite couples, they are one of the CIA's favourites too.
The links don't stop there. One of Argo's producers was George Clooney, who made Syriana
(2007), based on former CIA officer Bob Baer's experiences in the Middle East. Clooney is also a listed member
of the Council on Foreign Relations, perhaps the most influential foreign policy think tank in the US. Before he got involved in CIA productions Affleck also starred in Armageddon
(1998) and Pearl Harbour
(2001), two action-disaster films that some people see as predictive programming for 9/11, the 'new Pearl Harbour'. Both films were made by whizz-bang closeupwobblecam merchant Michael Bay, and both were produced with assistance from the Pentagon
If all this is making you wonder whether Hollywood is largely populated by CIA agents and whether Affleck himself is a CIA agent then you aren't alone. Fortunately, someone actually felt the need to ask Affleck about these issues:
That's right, according to Affleck 'Probably, Hollywood is full of CIA agents' that we don't know about. However, it is perhaps more pertinent to focus our attention on the ones we do know about, such as Chase Brandon's replacement Paul Barry. He told Dr Tricia Jenkins that in his view, 'Most Americans are content to accept Hollywood's message. Very few ever conduct any research to determine the truth. This is reinforced to us by the public e-mail we receive. In most instances, Hollywood is the only way the public learns about the Agency and Americans frequently shape their judgments about us based on films.'
What can we do about this? For one, by spotting the spooks in Hollywood we can show those people who do shape their judgments about the CIA based on films that they are being duped, and deliberately so. The CIA is not a heroic, patriotic institution that wants to protect the lives of ordinary Americans and help spread peace and freedom, no matter how many Chase Brandon-aided films put phrases like that in their dialogue. If they were such an institution then they wouldn't have to employ people like Brandon and Barry to massage their image and weaponise the dream factories. The very existence of people like Brandon and Barry tells us there's a problem within the CIA, a problem Hollywood cannot solve. For another, the likes of Affleck and Garner are not celebrities we should look up to, but are the pawns of professional deceivers and therefore probably deserve our pity. At the very least we could stop paying for our own deception, and encourage others to stop paying for theirs.