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Mutt and Jeff were a pair of Norwegian double agents during WW2, named after the popular cartoon characters. They played a crucial role in deceiving the Nazi intelligence apparatus by taking part in false flag sabotage and deception operations. Several of these operations have very curious codenames including Operation GUY FAWKES and Operation BUNBURY. In this episode I dwell on the relevance of MI5 operations sourcing their codenames from historical and fictional figures. I also analyse how an episode of Spooks in 2002 foreshadowed the declassification of government documents on these WW2 operations, before asking if MI5 are suffering from hyperreality.
This might at first glance look like a bit of a stretch – what do WW2 spies and spying have to do with the concept of hyperreality, the inability to recognise the real from the artificial? Trust me, by the end of this episode the connection will be crystal clear. I have written about and talked about the subject of WW2 spies before, on the subject of Nazi Pigeons, the Double Cross System, false flag sabotage operations and of course Eddie Chapman, my favourite spy. I will be picking up on a lot of this material again today, but with quite a different analysis and conclusion in mind.
So let’s get everyone on the same page – the particular spying operations that I know about are, naturally, what British intelligence was up to. And they were up to all sorts of shenanigans. One interesting example is the activities of Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl and others working for British Security Co-ordination in New York. Among their various aims was to help bring the United States into the war, which was successful. The book The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington does a good job of reconstructing this, though it does try to present the story as though without these British spies tricking the Americans, the US would have never got involved in WW2.
The reality – that the US has been a war nation since its inception – escapes a lot of analyses by American authors seeking to blame others for the sheer belligerence of the US on the world stage. If you look through the list of wars involving the US, their involvement in wars as far away as the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean begins only a few years after the US became an independent nation. This notion of America being an isolationist country until the middle of the 20th century is simply bullshit, and anyone who says otherwise is simply denying basic historical facts. The first involvement of the US in Vietnam, for example, was in 1861, and was not the result of trickery by the British or the international bankers or the Jews or any of the other usual scapegoats. The US has never been a peaceful nation.
The case of British Security Coordination is important in this respect – the US government were 100% aware of what they were doing, and both the leaders of the OSS including Bill Donovan and the leaders of the White House including FDR approved and provided assistance. Hoover, who never trusted British intelligence (and why would he?) was basically on board but refused to let the FBI get involved. This may even have contributed to the reasons why no action was taken when British double agent Dusko Popov aka TRICYCLE warned the FBI that the Nazis were very interested in information on the defences at Pearl Harbor. It’s not as though the British withheld this information from the Americans, it is the Americans who failed to act on it.
The Double Cross System
Popov was part of the Double Cross System, a network of double agents being run by British intelligence. These were people who had been recruited by the German intelligence apparatus and subsequently been turned and were in reality working for the British government. This process, whereby Nazi spies were identified and scooped up and either turned into double agents or imprisoned, was so successful that the Double Cross System controlled every single spy that the Germans sent to the UK.
The spies were sent here for a variety of purposes – their handlers were very interested in weather reports, far more than would be necessary for developing invasion plans. Some agents were trained in sabotage techniques and told to blow up factories making fighter planes, or food storage warehouses and power stations. Yet more were told to report back about troop movements and the numbers and relative strength of the military forces. All of these spies were ultimately being controlled by the 20 Committee, a group within British intelligence.
Initially the primary purpose was counter-intelligence – stopping the Germans getting hold of important information. So the agents who were reporting back, occasionally in person but more often by secret writing and radio transmissions, sent back reports full of true but benign information – chickenfeed – with a few exaggerations and misleading bits thrown in for good measure. To try to dissuade a German invasion, the British made out that their forces were about 10% larger, faster and more lethal than they really were.
This evolved into a full-blown deception campaign, whereby German intelligence were repeatedly deceived particularly when it came to the Allied invasion of Europe. When the Allies decided to try to strike back and eventually re-take Europe from the Axis Powers they invaded from both the North and the South. They managed to fool the Germans into thinking that the Northern invasion would be through Norway. This never happened. In the run-up to the Allied invasion of Sicily they managed to convince the Germans that they would land in Greece and Sardinia, so the Germans reinforced those positions, in turn making the real move into Sicily that much easier.
Likewise in the run-up to D-Day, the full Allied invasion of Europe, the British duped the Nazis into thinking that there would be two attacks – an initial strike at Normandy and then a full assault and invasion at Calais. This included the creation of a fake army unit – the First US Army Group – and numerous false reports through the double agent network saying that this unit would try to take Calais. Once more the Germans were deceived and so they reinforced at Calais, pulling troops away from Normandy even after the attack at Normandy had begun.
Ian Fleming’s 30 Assault Unit benefited from this as it was their job to work behind enemy lines as a snatch squad. As the Allies advanced, this unit would infiltrate ahead of the line of battle into German-occupied territory and grab documents, equipment, enemy personnel and anything else of great intelligence value before it was destroyed or removed. Because the German presence in a lot of their target zones – including Sicily and Normandy – was lessened because they’d been fooled into thinking the real fight would be somewhere else, this made the work of the 30 Assault Unit considerably more straightforward. So you see how these operations conveniently dovetailed, sometimes by design but sometimes just due to the necessities and demands of war.
False Flags and Media Fakery
A few operations that were part of all this have cultural significance so I would like to examine these more closely. One involves prominent stage magician Jasper Maskelyne, the others involve two Norwegian agents who were codenamed after cartoon characters. In order to maintain the cover of these double agents, the Germans had to be convinced that they were still loyal and carrying out their missions, or at least trying to. In many cases this did not prove difficult – it seems the agent handlers were very keen to report up the chain that everything was going smoothly and their operations were a success. To an extent, the Nazis saw what they wanted to and thus were willing fools. However, the British went to great lengths to try to maintain this cover and perhaps the most interesting examples were the false flag sabotage operations.
When double agent Eddie Chapman aka ZIGZAG landed in the UK he was under orders to blow up the De Haviland aircraft factory, which was churning out large numbers of British military planes. Obviously one man cannot blow up an entire airbase and factory, but he could disable the power generators and thus disable production. One night Chapman and a group of British intelligence officers broke into the grounds and faked an attack on the power station, so aerial reconnaissance would show the appearance of a real attack. The photos from the MI5 files betray the theatrical element to all this, with holes painted on brick walls and the like, all of which was designed with the assistance of the magician Jasper Maskelyne. He spent the whole war working for various military and intelligence camouflage units.
Two other double agents from Norway were John Moe and Tor Glad, aka MUTT and JEFF. Mutt and Jeff was the name of a popular cartoon pairing. It began in 1907 and spawned both live action and animated films as well as stage shows and comic books. Honestly, I had never heard of this cartoon until I read about the spies but it is interesting that MI5 would choose to name agents like this. The influence of popular culture on the deep state is something even less examined than the influence of the deep state on popular culture.
The names of some of these operations also bear scrutiny, for they surely were not picked at random. One of these acts of false flag sabotage called for blowing up a food dump to try to make it look like MUTT and JEFF were still loyal and were carrying out their tasks. This went a bit wrong because shortly after the British agents had snuck in and set off some incendiary bombs, an ‘over zealous local policeman’ arrived and nearly arrested the officers. The fire was quickly put out, leaving enough evidence of the bombs that the police identified them as those used by the Special Operations Executive. In one MI5 report on MUTT and JEFF they note ‘This led to a very delicate situation in connection with the inquiry being made by Scotland Yard. Ultimately, however, the inquiry died out’. The codename given to this false flag bombing was Operation GUY FAWKES, possibly the first false flag patsy terrorist in British history.
A similar plan targeted a power plant, again to support the idea that MUTT and JEFF were carrying out sabotage attacks and that their German handlers could trust them. They requested money and equipment via their radio, so that British intelligence could test the quality of the equipment being provided by the Germans to their spies. According to the book The Double Cross System by JC Masterman – an Oxford academic who helped run the 20 Committee and run these agents – most of the equipment that the Germans dropped for Mutt and Jeff ‘was captured British material manufactured by SOE’.
This time the bombing itself went off without any problems and produced the desired effect in the form of German propaganda branding the bombing a huge success with one outlet even claiming that over 150 workers were killed at the plant. As Masterman explains, the operation was considered a huge success within MI5 as well:
It maintained and confirmed the reputation of two agents who were important on the information as well as the sabotage side; it obtained for us samples of German sabotage equipment available to the Germans; it gave us knowledge of their sabotage technique; and, by the publicity resulting from the operation, it provided a security stimulus in factories and public utilities in this country.
This idea of a ‘security stimulus’ gets to the heart of what MI5 learned, that a ‘stimulation of security consciousness’ was possible through these phony and false flag operations. In the MUTT and JEFF files this was presented only as something that came up in a meeting unexpectedly, but in Masterman’s book he lists it as an explicit objective of these types of plans. Hence, this directly connects these non-lethal sabotage bombings to lethal false flag terrorist bombings. In one report they conclude that ‘in cases like these, friends as well as enemies must be completely deceived’. So whether we count as a friend or an enemy doesn’t necessarily matter to them.
The name of this bombing at the power station was Operation BUNBURY. Here’s where things get a bit strange. The only reference I know to ‘Bunbury’ is in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, where one of the characters invents an unwell friend in the country as an excuse to escape from the city. So Bunbury isn’t a fictional character, even in the fictional realm of the play he doesn’t actually exist. From this we get the verb to ‘Bunbury’ or ‘Bunburying’ which means either to get out of something you don’t want to do by pretending you have to visit a sick friend, or (according to Urban Dictionary), ‘To galavant around under a false identity, usually performing various licentious and immoral acts‘. Obviously this latter meaning didn’t exist when MI5 named their operation, but why did they use this name? It was at the time slang for an invented person or something that you lie about, which is presumably why those chose it. But there again, it would only be a handful of people who were in on the joke, at least until decades later when they declassified the files.
Perhaps it was simply a reflection of how both sides were engaging in an intelligence battle where neither of them quite knew what was happening. The Germans could not be sure whether their agents were still loyal. MI5 could not be certain that their double agents were being taken seriously. A huge amount was riding on this, but both were taking a journey into the unknown, into a place where deception and reality start to merge and the one who navigates the confusion best will eventually win out. Thus, using the name of a non-existent fictional character for a deception operation is entirely appropriate.
Which brings us neatly onto the subject of hyperreality. Remember, these operations did not kill anyone, but some of them were real bombings that did real damage to real buildings. The deception was primarily in who was responsible, but sometimes it was in what had actually happened. The files on these cases and operations began to be released in late 2002, the Mutt and Jeff case was covered in a November 2002 BBC article titled Britain ‘bombed itself to fool Nazis’.
Six months earlier this declassification was foreshadowed in an episode of Spooks, a TV series I have discussed many times for its curious ability to predict almost everything that happens in this country with regards to the security services. This show predicted the Mark Stone case, where a Special Branch spy infiltrated an anarchist group and fell in love with one of them, the murder of Lee Rigby and Michael Adebolajo possibly being recruited by MI5, as well as the official and alternative versions of the 7/7 London bombings. The show was produced with the assistance of ‘ex spook advisors’ including Mike Baker formerly of the CIA, but the writer of several of these episodes had also hinted that they discussed storylines with MI5 themselves. Certainly some of the later seasons were granted permission to film the MI5 headquarters at Thames House, as was the spin off film Spooks: The Greater Good.
One interview with Mike Baker and the series’ executive producer Stephen Garrett reads:
Given the sensitive and ominous nature of current events, how do producers draw the line at injecting reality into the show?
“We don’t really,” Garrett said, citing an example of how much fact and fiction merge.
“We had a story about an extreme racist group stirring up trouble in high-immigrant areas to provoke the government into tighter legislation on immigration,” he said. “Our show was followed by the main BBC news show which lead with a story of an almost identical nature.”
Other articles have drawn attention to this phenomenon of Spooks predicting the future, it is clearly something the producers were trying to do and having consultants from the intelligence services had to be part of that. Homeland is the best recent example, but Spooks was essentially doing the same thing 10 years earlier.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they incorporated details from these little-known WW2 intelligence operations into a storyline only months before the files were declassified. In the last episode of series one an IRA terrorist named Patrick McCann walks into an MI5 safe house and tells them he wants to talk to the people in charge. He offers to tell them about a major terrorist attack on a nuclear power station if they allow his group to carry out a bombing in London unimpeded. The head of section B, Harry Pierce, refuses to go along with it but his second in command goes against orders. They decide to let the IRA gang plant the bomb and then sneak in and defuse it before causing the roof to collapse to make it look like the bombing was successful. They do this, successfully deceiving the IRA gang and getting the intelligence they need to prevent the attack on the nuclear power station.
So, I’ll play a little clip for you and then we’ll come back and look at the numerous parallels between this storyline and the real life spying operations in WW2.
So, let’s play spot the meme comparing that little clip to these WW2 operations we’ve been looking at today.
1) Attack on a Power Station, just like in Operation Bunbury.
2) Fake bombing, giving the appearance of a real attack and ‘the craters not the corpses’, just like in the faked attack on the De Havilland factory.
3) The aim of the fake attack is to convince an enemy that their attack has been successful so that they continue to provide information.
4) The McCann character is effectively a double agent whose superiors in the IRA don’t know he’s giving information to MI5, just like Mutt and Jeff and Eddie Chapman and Dusko Popov and the rest.
5) These are heavily comparmentalised operations where ‘friends as well as enemies must be completely deceived’.
6) There are two operations, the real one and the decoy, just like with the invasion of France at Normandy with the fake operation aimed at Calais.
7) Even the name ‘Section B’ is a real part of MI5, and the Double Cross System was run by a subsection B1A.
There can be little doubt that this episode is based on these WW2 operations, the details are just too consistent. One could also see this as in some way foreshadowing the 7/7 bombings, with an attack on a train station and a suicidal plot by Islamist fanatics. The train station they mentioned – Broad Street – is actually closed down because its functions have been taken over by Liverpool Street, one of the targets on 7/7. So we have an episode of a TV series portraying a fictional story based on a real MI5 operation using a fake bombing as a means of deception.
It’s no wonder people are confused.
As such, by accident or by design, this episode encourages the increasingly popular idea that terrorist attacks and mass shootings and indeed most news events in their entirety are somehow faked by the security services. From this perspective, no one really dies in these events and it’s all just crisis actors presumably paid by the state. A similar idea, of an exercise that goes live with fake media broadcasts and fake victims to give the appearance of a real attack, appears only a few episodes into season 2 of Spooks, and was also written by Howard Brenton.
So I have to ask, is this not only a fictional story based on a real MI5 operation using a fake bombing as a means of deception, but in fact a deception operation using a fictional story based on a real MI5 operation using a fake bombing as a means of deception? Much as I hate the nihilistic confusion of people who watch too much TV or youtube and have lost their grip on reality, I do understand why this happens. That a show like this would revel in it so much either says something pretty nasty about the writers or says something about their relationship with the intelligence services. Or Both.
Are MI5 suffering from hyperreality?
I have raised the question before of whether Phil Strub, the Pentagon’s Hollywood liaison, is suffering from hyperreality. He makes jokes about walking down the corridors of the Pentagon thinking ‘well, how would we deal with a 300 foot radioactive lizard?’, things like that. So I wonder whether MI5, or the people within MI5 who are responsible for entertainment propaganda, are also getting a bit confused. After all, they live in an state of constant uncertainty, where the lines of what is presumed real are shifting as operations develop, loyalties are rewritten and so on. Likewise they actively try to create reality, try to alter events through covert influence, take on false identities, lie as a matter of course.
So it would be no surprise to see them struggling to remember who they are and what the hell is going on. This is a recurring theme in Spooks, one that is played very sympathetically to the spies and thus something we can assume MI5 were very happy with. The character of Zoe, the beautiful female MI5 officer, has a whole storyline about this, thus engaging both the male and female audience members. So there are two potentially quite different ways of interpreting all this:
1) This is weaponised hyperreality – MI5 using this postmodern confusion to their own advantage, for their own ends.
2) This is MI5 inflicting their own ontological and political confusion onto us through a popular TV show.
Honestly, I don’t know which of these is the more plausible. Is this state-sponsored weaponised hyperreality or the deep state’s madness writ large on the population? Not an easy to question to answer, but a very important question to consider.
Pearse invited me back onto his new radio show to discuss my recent piece on Three Days of the Condor and some of the alternative history of Watergate. We get into the infamous picture of Robert Redford and Richard Helms and ask why the CIA were monitoring Helms’ on set appearance during the filming of Condor, given the film’s very negative portrait of the Agency. We move onto Watergate, the subject of a recent news story that provided confirmation that Eugenio Martinez – one of the burglars – was a CIA agent at the time of the break in. The death of J Edgar Hoover and the role of the CIA’s liaison to the Plumbers John Paisley forms the basis for a sideways look at the Watergate situation, and we also ruminate on the similarities with what is happening today with Clinton and the DNC leaks.
In the second hour we are joined by Guillermo Jimenez to discuss Trump’s similarity to populist South American politicians, the ‘Is Hilary Clinton sick?’ meme and other issues relating to the upcoming election.
Tron is a classic piece of transhumanist cinema and the first of a string of films where someone is sucked into a digital realm and has to battle it out with computer programs in order to save the day (the Matrix trilogy being the most popular examples). It was also a curious departure for Disney from working primarily on animations and other fantasy films explicitly aimed at children into more teen- or adult-oriented science fiction. Tron was also the first film to be allowed to film at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, so I asked the Department of Energy for any records on this.
The filming of Tron at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)
Aaron Franz and I reviewed Tron and the sequel Tron: Legacy for an episode of ClandesTime where we discussed Disney’s government connections and how the transhumanist ideas in the films are in keeping with the Disney corporation’s philosophy. For more on the film itself and the religious theology it propounds I strongly recommend this episode.
The records provided by the DoE are mostly articles from internal newsletters, two of which are about how many scenes for Star Trek: Into Darkness were filmed at NIF – the National Ignition Facility at LLNL. These articles note that this was the first time since Tron that a movie had been allowed to film at LLNL. One of the articles notes that:
About 1,200 LLNL employees were invited to watch a special preview showing of “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” parts of which were filmed at NIF during a Facility Maintenance and Reconfiguration Period last year.
The NIF is primarily a research lab looking into nuclear fusion ignition. The article from the DoE quotes JJ Abrams, the director/producer of the rebooted Star Trek franchise who said:
We were there just trying to shoot a movie but all around us, these innovative scientists are working on technologies that will likely help the whole world.
The filming was approved by the National Nuclear Security Administration and another quote from Abrams tells us why:
So many people told us ‘Star Trek’ inspired them to get involved in science.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Another internal newsletter article notes how the NIF (the world’s largest laser) was used for the climactic warp core sequence towards the end of Star Trek: Into Darkness and that this was the subject of part of a History Channel documentary.
As the director of NIF Ed Moses says in this clip, while sat in front of the NIF laser/warp core:
One thing you have to remember about Star Trek – what was their objective? Exploring new worlds. So here we can explore them. Behind me we have been to the centre of Saturn.
Robert Ricker Baltzer and Tron
Another record provided by the DoE is an obituary for Robert Ricker Baltzer. Baltzer joined the US Air Force when he was just 17, working for them for 16 years including during the Korean War. He then joined DoE, working at LLNL on the Argus laser project and then the Shiva and Nova lasers. According to the obituary:
While at the Lab, he supervised the filming of the original “Tron” movie which took place in the laser bay. For his efforts, he received an award from the Disney Company.
The final article from DoE is the only one from the time of the filming of Tron. It tells the story of a DoE official who was an escort to the Disney crew for two out of the four days they spent at LLNL. The article is titled ‘Disney’s magic works its spell on Lab staff’ and perhaps unsurprisingly captures the tone of Tron, mixing science with magical fantasy.
Already the presence of the Disney troops was vaccinating this serious business of scientific research with fun and good will. Disney films always let Good conquer Evil. Abundant magic helps not just the heroes and heroines but the villain as well. The world is always a better place by the end.
To find the DoE saying the same thing about Tron as JJ Abrams said about the DoE – that both are making the world a better place – shows how well their mutual interests dovetail. The final line of the article describes driving home at the end of a day’s filming:
As I drove I savored the paradox of the last two days. The Walt Disney people were dead serious about creating make believe while working the midst of laser beams and the real electronic computer technology upon which modern man is betting his survival. Perhaps truth is humankind’s sense of humor and make believe is our salvation.
The DoE also provided one record – an archive listing of a video that appears to be an in-house recording of the Disney crew filming at LLNL, but they say they will send that via the post so I will make that available when it arrives. I have also requested any further documents on the filming of Star Trek: Into Darkness so they will also be the subject of a future article when and if they turn up.
The International Spy Museum is a privately owned museum that hosts exhibits and other events on the history of spies, spying, intelligence tradecraft and so on. Conceived in 1996 – coincidentally just as the CIA adopted a more overt approach to domestic propaganda – and opened in 2002 – coincidentally a crucial year for CIA domestic propaganda – it has grown a strong reputation for itself in the years since then. Financed by The Malrite Company and the District of Columbia, The International Spy Museum is a shining example of collaboration between government and the private sector. In all likelihood, it is a front for the CIA.
Who’s who at the International Spy Museum?
The Malrite Company was founded by Milton Maltz, who worked as a code breaker for the NSA and the US Navy during the Korean War. He is often described as the ‘driving force’ behind the project. The public face of the museum is usually Peter Earnest – a career CIA man who worked in black operations.
The original board included Stansfield Turner (former director of the CIA), Christopher Andrew (MI5 official historian) and Carlos D Davis (former head of the CIA’s Fine Arts Commission) along with other former high ranking CIA and military intelligence figures. The current board includes Stella Rimington (ex director general of MI5), Milton Maltz and Peter Earnest, James Woolsey (ex director of the CIA), William H Webster (ex director of both the FBI and CIA) Tony and Jonna Mendez (ex CIA, now working in the entertainment industry) and Melissa Boyle Mahle (ex CIA, now working in the entertainment industry).
The Mendezes and Mahle are important because they have worked on two of the biggest CIA-supported productions of the post-Chase Brandon era: Argo and Salt. Mahle also worked on Hanna, which as far as I know had no direct CIA involvement. They are not as high ranking as most of the other former and current advisory board members but they, crucially, provide access points to the CIA’s public affairs office and to Hollywood. Tony Mendez’ medal from the CIA, which appears in Argo, is among the numerous items on exhibit at the International Spy Museum.
Many of these names also appear among the list of speakers at major events hosted by the museum. The Mendezes have spoken at multiple events, the museum has an Argo tie-in online exhibit, there is clearly a relatively small clique of former intelligence officers and officials who run this show. Bizarrely, 9/11 whistleblower turned media talking head Anthony Shaffer has also been a guest speaker.
The FBI documents on the International Spy Museum
Courtesy of a recent FOIA request by MuckRock the FBI released a handful of pages from when the museum was first being put together. It is not explained how or why the Bureau got hold of this information, but the files involve a request to the Austrian Ministry of the Interior for permission to use their emblem as part of the exhibits at the museum. The request was sent in June 2001 and mentions that the museum’s developers had contacted other foreign embassies to ask for permission to use their crests.
It appears the Austrians then turned to the FBI to ask if they were a legitimate organisation, which the FBI verified. An internal pair of emails states that ‘they want to create the largest permanent exhibition of material related to espionage. I wonder if any OPCA types would know if we have cooperated in any way?’ I assume OPCA is a typo and the writer meant OCPA – Office of the Chief of Public Affairs. The reply came back, ‘Talked to Mike Kortan at the press office and said it a for real deal. There is currently a spy tour that takes you around various historical sites in the city. The tour will start and end at the museum in the future. It is a private venture. Who knew FCI could be so exciting.’
FCI is usually the acronym for Foreign Counterintelligence Investigation but that would be massively overstating what these documents show. Perhaps there is a ‘Foreign Communications’ unit of the FBI. Mike Kortan is Michael Kortan, then Chief of the Public Affairs Section for the Bureau, now assistant director for Public Affairs. What these documents, particular the emails, show is that even those within the Bureau were wondering if their agency had anything to do with the museum. Given the relative lack of FBI representation on the advisory board this seems unlikely, whereas the CIA are incredibly well represented and in some cases by people who have been involved with very pro-CIA movies.
In February 1975 the director of conspiracy classic Three Days of the Condor Sidney Pollack invited Richard Helms, former head of the CIA, to visit the set while they were shooting in New York. Helms went along for a day and acted as a consultant to Robert Redford, as depicted in this infamous picture. Though Helms had left the Agency, three documents from the CIA’s open source monitoring of media coverage show they were keeping an eye on developments. Statements from former CIA chief lawyer John Rizzo suggest that they may have been directly involved in the production.
The Invitation to Richard Helms
According to an interview in Jump Cut, Pollack extended the invitation to Helms, who by that point was the US Ambassador to Iran.
M: Did you have any contact with the CIA while you were making THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR?
P: There wasn’t, really. We would have welcomed it, but we knew better than to try to pursue it actively in any way. What we did was to invite Mr. (Richard) Helms to come and watch the shooting for a day, which he did. I think he enjoyed himself very much. It was a movie, finally, and not any attempt on our part to do a definitive documentary.
One of the CIA’s records is a brief article from Newsweek, including the original of the photo above. It notes:
Helms […] had accepted an invitation passed along by a mutual friend, to watch Redford film a scene in “Three Days of the Condor”. No clues as to what the once and would-be spies discussed. “At this point in time,” grinned Redford, “we are not at liberty to divulge the details.”
Who this mutual friend was is not clear but Helms did adopt a more positive approach to Hollywood than previous heads of the CIA so it could have been anyone from Jack Valenti to Jane Fonda. Sadly it almost certainly wasn’t Arnon Milchan – the Mossad spy/producer who at one time was business partners with Pollack – as he didn’t get started in Hollywood until later. A very similar article in Time (also from February 3rd 1975) uses a picture of Helms reflected in Redford’ sunglasses, noting that:
The tall man in the London-tailored suit and woolen muffler sipped his coffee and carefully observed the husky blonde in the pea jacket. Then embattled ex-CIA director Richard Helms threw caution to the wind. He stepped over to ask whether “I was encountering as many difficulties as he had been experiencing lately” explained Robert Redford.
He did not engage in shoptalk, said Redford, just chatted generally about the film.
This sort of doublespeak ‘we didn’t talk about the CIA’ versus ‘we cannot divulge what we discussed’ is quite predictable and even amusing, given that whatever they discussed it was only for a brief period. However, that the film was being produced at the same time as congressional investigations into the Agency and other intelligence services is a pertinent and provocative coincidence.
Three Days of the Condor
The third article in the CIA’s documents on Three Days of the Condor is review of the film in the Wall Street Journal some months after the pair of articles about Helms’ visit to the set. This in-depth review is very positive and dwells on the political dimensions of the movie:
But besides a realistic atmosphere and a credible hero, this thriller absorbs us on a more immediate level. By making the source of its menace a renegade operation within the CIA “Three Days of the Condor” very much addresses itself both to the headlines we’ve been reading and to growing public concern with accountability and control of secret government activities…
…At one moment in the film, a top level CIA official played by John Houseman, wearily attempting to unravel the mystery and confusion surrounding “Condor”, reminisces with a colleague about his work during the great war. “You miss that kind of action?” his colleague asks. “No” Houseman replies, “I miss that kind of clarity”.
A further indication of just how accurate Three Days of the Condor was in portraying the mid-Cold War CIA comes via John Rizzo, the former General Counsel for the Agency. In a 2007 discussion at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law (while he was still in post) he said of Three Days of the Condor:
It had the cadences of what real CIA people do, and what real CIA people are like… Even some of the scenes in the movie – a lot of the action is set in a CIA cover facility that several years later I found myself in a place that looked almost exactly like that movie. I don’t know how they did it but they managed to replicate what a real CIA cover facility was like.
Whether this is the influence of the film on the CIA or the influence of the CIA on the film is not certain, though it seems unlikely that the Agency would build or buy a cover facility (or safe house) to look like one from a popular movie. This suggests that beyond Helms’ brief visit to the set, the producers of Three Days of the Condor had some kind of assistance from the CIA.