Decoding Chase Brandon: CIA Entertainment Liaison

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Chase Brandon was the CIA’s first entertainment liaison officer, working in the entertainment industry for over a decade from 1996 onwards.  Brandon helped produce over a dozen major films and a similar number of TV shows and more than any other individual helped set up a permanent CIA network within Hollywood and the rest of the industry.  His website chasebrandon.com is a bit of a labyrinth but used in the right way it is a treasure trove of information and evidence of the relationship between the world’s largest intelligence agency and the world’s largest entertainment industry.  It even presents the possibility that Brandon was involved in making Wag the Dog.

Chase Brandon: A Mini-Biography

Very little is known about Chase Brandon’s career in the CIA before he was appointed their entertainment liaison officer.  Brandon’s site says that he worked for over 40 years for different institutions in the US intelligence, military and law enforcement apparatus.  We know that he was in the CIA for around 25 years, working primarily on overseas covert operations, before moving into entertainment propaganda. His site says:

Has worked for over forty years in the US intelligence community, Department of Defense and federal/state law enforcement organizations as a specialist in classic espionage operations and covert paramilitary activities.

He has lived and traveled abroad in over seventy countries, and as a senior operations officer, he has served a number of times as chief or deputy of Agency field installations.

Another page provides more details:

For twenty-five years he served in the Agency’s elite Clandestine Service as an undercover, covert operations officer carrying out foreign assignments involving international terrorism, counterinsurgency, global narcotics trafficking and weapons smuggling.

He operated under a range of official and private sector covers, sometimes using alias names and physical disguises, and often collaborating with special operations components of foreign military, security or law enforcement components abroad.

Though his site avoids this question, Brandon definitely served in Latin America sometime between joining the Agency in the early 70s and becoming their entertainment liaison officer in 1996.  The CIA’s extremely bloody history of covert ops in that part of the world was so bad that it brought about their most damaging whistleblower – Phil Agee.  It is likely that Brandon saw, experienced and participated in some very ugly operations and activities.

In the mid-1990s Brandon, like a lot of government employees, was thinking of retiring from what is laughably called public service.  The Agency were scouting about for a suitable agent to head up their new efforts at reaching out to the entertainment industry.  Their attempts to produce The Classified Files of the CIA in 1994-5 had gone badly wrong and they needed a more subtle approach.  While we cannot be sure, it is safe to assume that Brandon was partly chosen due to having experience with psychological warfare operations, or at least something involving art, entertainment or media.  Another useful factor is that Brandon’s first cousin is Tommy Lee Jones (who played CIA contract agent Clay Bertrand, the only man ever put on trial for the assassination of JFK).

So Brandon put off his retirement for what turned out to be a decade and was hugely successful in his new role as entertainment liaison chief for the CIA.  Chase is by far their longest serving officer in this role, his replacement Paul Barry lasted for only a couple of years before moving on to other pastures.  For several years before and after the turn of the millenium, 9/11 and the new world that emerged in its wake, Chase Brandon was pursuing the CIA’s propaganda objectives in Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry.  He finally retired in 2007, apparently taking with him all the records of what he had been doing.  Since then he has continued to work as a technical consultant to entertainment producers and has published his novel The Cryptos Conundrum, a ‘a sci-fi, political conspiracy thriller about CIA’s cover-up of the Roswell UFO crash’.

Brandon as CIA Entertainment Liaison Officer

Putting together a full list of the films that Chase Brandon worked on while he was working with Hollywood is not a straightforward task.  His IMDB page doesn’t even come up on the first page of google when you search his name.  When you do find the page it only mentions three films – The Recruit, Sum of All Fears and Enemy of the State.  It has previously listed two other movies – The Rogue and Fard Ayn, but these were made after he left the CIA and do not appear to have been fully released.

ChaseBrandon-IMDB-2010Chase Brandon’s IMDB page, February 2010

Over on Brandon’s personal site, once you get the hang of the unnecessary drop-down content tabs you find out that he was a consultant or technical advisor on The Recruit, Sum of All Fears, Enemy of the State, Bad Company, Mission Impossible III, Meet the Parents, In the Company of Spies, The Good Shepherd, Charlie Wilson’s War, Spy Game, The Interpreter and The Bourne Identity.  This information was only added to chasebrandon.com in June 2012, fully five years after he had left the Agency.

Sometime in 2013 Brandon added a section to the site that isn’t available via the homepage – there are no links to this section and the site has no search function.  I only found this semi-secret section by using a search engine to display all the pages under a particular primary URL, i.e. all pages within chasebrandon.com.  The hidden pages are a more extensive résumé for Chase Brandon’s career and credits in the entertainment industry and include the sequel to Meet the ParentsMeet the Fockers.  That makes it thirteen major movies that Brandon worked on in the ten years he was the CIA’s entertainment industry liaison.  It is perhaps significant that most of the additional pages in this semi-secret section of chasebrandon.com have not been archived by the wayback machine.

WaybackMachine-ChaseBrandon-SecretPagesNotArchivedWayback Machine result for http://www.chasebrandon.com/page0/page9/

Chase Brandon’s TV shows

Picking through the various pages on the website we can establish that Brandon also worked on eleven major TV series: The Path to 9-11, The Agency, Alias, 24, JAG, Air America, Covert Action, Top Secret Missions of the CIA, Stories of the CIA, Spies Above Us and Greatest Intelligence Agency.  I discussed many of these shows in my article The CIA’s TV Network but four of these stand out as particularly important.

The Path to 9-11 is an epic two-part documentary covering the period between the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 and the 9/11 attacks of September 2001.  It aired only once and has since been edited, censored, blocked from release and otherwise thrown into a maelstrom of political turmoil.  That even a Disney-produced ABC documentary assisted by the CIA could be subject to such pressures, mostly originating from the Clinton family power axis, suggests that not all is well when it comes to media representations of these events.

Covert Action – Produced by Craig Piligian and his company False Flag Productions this was a pair of mini-series from 2002 and 2003 that seem to have completely slipped under the radar of most people.  While the show was in production Piligian, along with actor Dean Cain, visited Langley to research an adaptation of the Argo story that became an episode of the Discovery Channel series Stories of the CIA.  As an edition of What’s News at CIA notes, Piligian had already produced several shows on the CIA by that point and he clearly had a long-running relationship with Chase Brandon.

CraigPiligian-CIATVFrom What’s News at CIA No. 799

Alias – This is most notable because it is a prototype for Homeland and because its star Jennifer Garner appeared in a CIA recruitment advert.  She was not paid for doing this, but we do know that Brandon personally recruited her to do the promotion.  The edition of What’s News has Brandon’s name redacted, but the redaction has been done just badly enough that you can see the tops of the letters and see that the name underneath is, and has to be, Chase Brandon.

ChaseBrandon-JenniferGarner-Focus-RevealChase Brandon, unredacted

The Agency seems to have enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the CIA, as it was co-written by former CIA agent Bazzel Baz, now known as just ‘Baz’.  The producer Michael Frost Beckner was interviewed by Tricia Jenkins for her book The CIA and Hollywood (the second edition has just been published) and he said that for the episode titled ‘Peacemakers’ Brandon suggested a plot point where a rogue Pakistani general could be taken out via a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone.  A month after the show aired this happened for real, at the very beginning of the ever-expanding drone war.  Beckner commented, ‘I’m not a big conspiracy theor­ist but there seems to have been a unique synergy there.’

The show was so good at predicting the future that even its pilot episode, written months before 9/11, included a ‘War on Terror’ against Osama Bin Laden after he attacks the West in spectacular fashion.  This episode, filmed in part at Langley with CIA officers playing background extras, was going to première at CIA headquarters about a week after 9/11 and on TV shortly after that.  Because the plot was so close to the bone the show was pulled, and the first season episodes re-ordered to move the offending episode down the schedule.

Chase Brandon’s Creative Partners

This is where things get really interesting.  Two names that feature prominently on Brandon’s site (in the semi-secret section) are his ‘writing partner’ Roger Towne and his ‘producing partner’ Jeff Apple, both of whom were response for The Recruit.  As the new edition of Jenkins’ The CIA in Hollywood records, Brandon essentially wrote The Recruit.  His control, at least over the initial drafts and thus the general tone and shape of the film, was near-total.  Towne was only allowed to write insignificant parts, like the speech for a minor character near the beginning of the film.

One communication from Brandon to Towne says, ‘OK Rog, your time to rock and role with the Medford speech.  I’m even going to give you the opportunity to describe him!!!!’ While the final script was polished by others including Kurt Wimmer, this is an unprecedented example of the extent to which the CIA have influenced a major movie.  That Brandon was joking about letting Towne write a small part of the script suggests Towne and likely Apple as well simply allowed Brandon to use them as fronts for what was in essence Brandon’s script and brainchild.

Was Towne otherwise just a front, a name for Brandon to use as a cover?  Towne was also responsible for writing In the Company of Spies, a TV movie that was heavily assisted by the CIA and which was originally titled The AgencyThe Recruit was originally drafted back in 1997, when In the Company of Spies was being developed, and some of the dialogue is identical including the line ‘The CIA’s failures are known, but its successes are not’.  Even though all of the articles from the CIA’s in house magazine What’s News at CIA are unclassified, Brandon’s name is always redacted.  This is despite the CIA naming him on their own website, but you would only find this if you already knew what you were looking for.  It is perhaps important to note that prior to In The Company of Spies, Towne had not written a major film for about 15 years.

This begs the same question about others who Brandon has worked closely with, including those working for Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, who has his own production house within Paramount called Di Bonaventura Pictures.  Brandon co-wrote a script for Di Bonaventura Pictures called The Rub, which was never actually turned into a movie.  Since then Di Bonaventura Pictures have produced the Transformers series with the assistance of the DOD and NASA, and more importantly the Salt and Red franchises with the assistance of current or former CIA officers, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit which has the same feel of being sponsored by the Agency.   Salt was written by Kurt Wimmer, one of the screenwriters on The Recruit.

Chase Brandon and Wag the Dog

The character played by Al Pacino in The Recruit bears a few uncanny resemblances to Chase Brandon.  They are both CIA officers of long standing, experienced in black operations, now working at the CIA’s training facility the Farm (The Farm was the original title for The Recruit).  There is even a plot point revolving around Pacino’s character having worked for the CIA in Latin America.  However, this is not the most striking or worrying example of Chase Brandon appearing in movies without us knowing.

1997’s Wag the Dog is a lower-budget political satire that has to be seen to be believed.  We reviewed the film for ClandesTime and in that episode I suggested that just as the Dustin Hoffman character appears to be based on Stanley Kubrick (he is even called Stanley) likewise Robert De Niro’s character seems to be based on Chase Brandon.  A quick run-down of the similarities:

– They have similar names – Conrad Breen and Chase Brandon

– They do very similar jobs, working in domestic political propaganda for the US government

– Breen is frequently asked what it is he does and what his job really is, but never answers (just like a CIA agent)

– It is Breen who instantly recognises the CIA when they involve themselves in the story

– It is Breen who negotiates successfully to get the CIA to back off, using the same kind of doublespeak Brandon uses when he talks

– It is Breen who instantly recognises when the CIA cut a deal with the rival presidential candidate

The two men even look quite similar, suggesting that whether or not Brandon was quietly involved in Wag the Dog, the Conrad Breen character was inspired by and is based on him.

Conrad-Brean-is-Chase-BrandonConrad Breen is Chase Brandon

Where this gets particularly spooky is that the screenwriter who co-wrote The Rub with Brandon for Di Bonaventura Pictures was none other than Hilary Henkin – who won an academy award for the original screenplay of Wag the Dog.  If what this implies – that Brandon was also involved in Wag the Dog – is true, then Brandon is the only man in history to have been played by both Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.  And hardly anyone even knows his name.

Documents

You can download all the copies of What’s News at CIA that mention projects Chase Brandon worked on – from The Agency to the Jennifer Garner recruitment ad – in one file here (ZIP).

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