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.
Author and the creator of gonzo journalism Hunter S Thompson could be expected to have an FBI file, and he does. When it was released the FBI admitted that they had destroyed parts of it during the 1990s, and what remains is a smattering of amusing irrelevances. They began their investigations into Thompson in 1967 and continued until at least 1971, but the most interesting aspect of this is that they had an investigation into him at all. They found nothing, but they never really had any reason to look in the first place.
One of the most prominent influences of pop culture on government and on the deep state is in the use of code names. From the capture of Saddam Hussein to a counter-smuggling helicopter unit in Hawaii, from a mass surveillance program named after Blazing Saddles to Secret Service and MI5 code names taken from cartoon characters, this is a widespread and frequent phenomenon. It seems that the military and intelligence services are as obsessed with pop culture as anyone else, with both hilarious and terrifying results.
While the CIA have been assisting films such as Scorpio for decades they maintain very few records of their involvement in these productions, making it difficult to know how influential the Agency is in this arena. A different but somewhat fruitful angle of inquiry is in the CIA’s records of the media discussion of spy books and films in the form of reports, reviews, ratings and discussions. Files resulting from their open source monitoring of this media coverage shows that spy fiction is a topic the CIA have obsessed over throughout their existence.