Tom Clancy’s books are known for their technical accuracy, their political realism and their curious ability to foreshadow future events. In this episode we explore his government connections – to the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and the White House. We examine whether these connections are what enabled Clancy to write such prophetic fiction, and the impact of that on his readers. We also look at the influence of Clancy’s work on the government, from an elaborate inside joke within the CIA to the reading habits of Ronald Reagan. We round off looking at two possible Clancy copycats, both American men who flew planes into buildings (one before 9/11 and one after).
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As we explored last week, most if not all of the adaptations of Tom Clancy’s books were supported by the Pentagon and/or the CIA. This support was sometimes, as with Clear and Present Danger, in exchange for serious changes to the script. However they did get considerable support including being loaned a couple of MH-60 blackhawks to fly around mountains in Mexico, pretending they were in Colombia. Indeed, the fact that Mexico was doubling for Colombia in a story about narco-terrorists, at a time when Mexico was about to become the narco-terrorist capital of the Americas, is telling.
Predicting the future
One of the features of spy thrillers and techno-thrillers, and Clancy’s books are a bit of both, is predictive ability, their capacity to foresee political scenarios, technological advances, sometimes even the details of specific events. This is a topic on which opinion varies enormously. Some people say that if you have enough books or TV shows being made that sooner or later some of them will appear to predict the future. This is certainly true, though reducing this phenomenon to mere statistics is foolish.
Others will say that artists trying to conceive of imaginary but realistic events tap into something – collective consciousness or sub-consciousness, a latent or early-stage clairvoyancy, something of that kind. Not to be ruled out, after all some things are quite predictable and with greater lateral thinking ability it might prove possible to predict more complex things.
Finally there are those who say it is because these artists aren’t really predicting things, but are revealing plans (of the Freemasons, the elite or the intelligence services). Two terms dominate – revelation of the method and predictive programming. They are often used interchangeably, and the effect of the two on the mass public is broadly the same. The effect is to normalise the unthinkable, as Edward Herman put it. To take something that our society would not generally accept and make it acceptable, make it palatable, make it normal. Whether that’s an aspect of occult philosophy or a super-aggressive foreign policy doesn’t seem to make much difference to the conspiracy theorists, but there are differences. I don’t have the time to get into that today because that is a topic in itself but I do think these terms should be used a lot more carefully than they are at present.
State Sponsored Prophecy
My own study of this phenomenon came out of 9/11 and 7/7 research i.e. research into those events as possible false flag terrorist attacks. My concern was not with any bit of TV that appeared to predict the events, but with those shows and films that did this AND had evidence of state involvement. That’s the distinction very few conspiracy theorists make, to them anything that in any way prophetic is done so deliberately because the producer has access to secret information. I think that’s just as naive as believing that this doesn’t happen at all, and generally – not always – find that those who believe this all-encompassing view of ‘secret culture’, secret influence on culture, believe so on the basis of almost no knowledge whatsoever. As someone who has literally devoted years to this, and has pro-actively obtained and published reams of evidence about this, I find such people quite irritating.
But nonetheless this is a serious topic and should be treated as such. The show that most prominently predicted both the 7/7 bombings and the talking points about those bombings was produced with the help of former intelligence agents. We only know one of their names – Mike Baker previously of the CIA – but there must have also been British ex-spooks working on Spooks, given some of the comments of the writers in making of features.
I do not believe this is a coincidence. This show which shaped people’s perceptions about 7/7 both before and after the event, the perceptions both mainstream and alternative crowds, while being the premier British spy drama broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic, produced with the assistance of ex-spies from both sides of the Atlantic. That is not a coincidence to me. That’s a propaganda operation, and is among the strongest evidence not just of intelligence agency foreknowledge of the bombings, but active involvement in the bombings. That is the case I made in my book Secrets, Spies and 7/7 and I stand by that.
So, I am a believer, when it comes to what people call predictive programming. I may not agree with every identification of the phenomenon, in fact I don’t agree with many of them, but I do believe it is a real technique that was likely developed by British intelligence in its modern form. I cite a document in my book from the WW2 War Office, the National Archives reference is CAB 66/10/6 and the document is titled Propaganda for the Future. It describes using propaganda to pre-empt the future invasion of Britain by the sausage-munching Boche, and to prepare the public so they would respond in the way the government wanted.
So this predictive programming (or whatever you wish to call it) is a real phenomenon, one we can document in several different ways. Indeed, it would be more accurate to call it Prescriptive Programming, because it doesn’t just predict a future event but also prescribes a reaction, a way of behaving in response to that event. That’s the propagandistic part, merely prophesying an anticipated event is actually quite a normal thing for art to do.
Was Clancy a Predictive Programmer? I guess we can break this into two sub-questions, the first about the nature of Clancy’s clairvoyancy and the other about his relationship with the government. We’ll take his connections to the government first because that’s the beef of the matter.
Was Tom Clancy doing Predictive Programming for the State?
This whole question of where Clancy got his ideas from has come up time and again in interviews with him. One nice example is provided by a 1987 New York Times article, ‘TOM CLANCY’S BOOKS PUT BITS AND PIECES TOGETHER; For the Patient Reader, Military Secrets Are Self-Revealing’:
Mr. Clancy, who minutely described sophisticated weaponry in such books as ”The Hunt for Red October” and ”Red Storm Rising,” said that no one in the Government had given him ”classified information of any kind.” But he recalled that when he had lunch at the White House in 1985, John F. Lehman Jr., who was then Secretary of the Navy, asked him who had ”cleared” the information in his first book, ”Red October,” about the hunt for a defecting Soviet submarine.
Mr. Lehman, in an interview last week, recalled telling Mr. Clancy in a good-natured way: ”If you were a naval officer, I would have you court-martialed because of all the classified information in your book.” Up to that time, Mr. Lehman said, ”operational procedures of antisubmarine warfare had been classified.” But, he added, Mr. Clancy had simply ”pieced it all together by voraciously reading the open literature for 15 years, things like the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute.
In the course of research for his books, Mr. Clancy also spent a week at sea on a Navy frigate, went aboard several submarines, interviewed intelligence officers, studied a $10 war game and talked to a Soviet defector.
What I love about this article is that they act as though this guy who is lunching with the Secretary of the Navy, going on submarines and talking to a Soviet defector is just doing what any of us could do. As though you or I could just sit down to lunch with the Secretary of the Navy or a Soviet defector.
The article also mentions the United States Naval Institute, but neglects to mention that it is they who published Hunt for Red October, which as we learned last time was the book that got Clancy in with the CIA and got his books in with Hollywood. Nor does it mention that Clancy was a lifetime member of the US Naval Institute, nor that their headquarters are at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (which I’ve been to). They are supposedly an NGO, but if you believe that then I’ve got a canal in Panama to sell you.
Tom Clancy’s Government Connections
Clancy was a member of various organisations, as we find out from his FBI files. In 1980 he joined the US Naval Institute and the Air Force Association. He then wrote, and the Naval Institute published, The Hunt for Red October. This gets him invited to Langley, and to dinner with the Secretary of the Navy and similar. In 1988-89 Red October starts being turned into a film and Clancy joins the Writers Guild, the Science Fiction Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, became the national chairman of the Patriots of Fort McHenry and joined the board of the National Defense University. By 1990 Red October the film is coming out, with full Navy support, despite revealing the existence of classified technology, and Clancy is being considered for a position on the White House Space Council. His FBI file even includes a letter from the director of the FBI William Sessions, thanking Clancy for his invitation to a dinner and the premiere of Red October.
Clearly this period was critical in cementing Clancy’s relationship with various US government agencies. By the beginning of the 1990s he was part of the club, moving in those circles quite successfully. Believe it or not, Hunt for Red October even became the basis for an elaborate in-joke within the CIA. I’m taking this from a Gawker article but they’re basing it on a thesis written by a former CIA analyst so I think this is solid information.
Apparently, back in the 1980s someone within the CIA wrote a spoof account of how the real CIA leadership would have dealt with the events of the book. The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story then became something passed around Langley, and then emailed around when that became the norm. As the former analyst says in the thesis:
For me, “The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story” also served as a sort of barometer for my own acculturation process.During my first week of work in May of 2007, at least five people eagerly sent me the file saying things like, “You have to read this—it is the funniest thing ever!” But I didn’t get it, of course; not right away. By the end of my time there in early 2011, however, I revisited the text and found myself laughing out loud. Even though this story echoes other themes of this chapter, I place the Red October discussion here because of its legendary status; everyone seemed to know this story, so it was a shared cultural and institutional memory among the initiated. In fact, I was specifically told that “you aren’t truly initiated into CIA until you think that ‘The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story’ is funny.”
The article includes a full version of the spoof and it is pretty funny, so what that says about my relationship with the CIA is not something I will dwell on, but there is a serious point here too. Clearly the CIA in the 1980s with Clancy and Red October was a bit like the CIA in the 1950s with George Orwell or in the 1960s with James Bond – a bit of an obsession. And I understand the obsession because I share it, but one can’t help but wonder – having charmed his way into having an organisation situated on a Naval Base publish Hunt for Red October, was the book also an overture from Clancy to the CIA? If so, it seems to have worked.
Clancy also seems to have made a serious impression on Ronald Reagan. Recently declassified Downing Street files record the run up and reaction to the 1986 Reykjavík Summit between Ronnie Reagan and Mike Gorbachev. They make for interesting reading for a dozen reasons, not least of which was Reagan’s ludicrously inflexible politics and outright neo-con paranoia and constantly blaming the Soviets when the talks collapsed. But one memo detailing a conversation between Thatcher and Reagan before the summit shows that Reagan recommended to Thatcher Tom Clancy’s new book Red Storm Rising, which Reagan thought ‘gave an excellent picture of the Soviet Union’s intentions and strategy’.
1986 Downing Street memo on Clancy’s Red Storm Rising
As barmy as Reagan was, from claiming to have liberated the concentration camps in WW2 to getting the idea for the Star Wars program from TV shows, this moment tells us so much. As absurd as the Soviet system was, especially by 1986, the guy they were at least physically up against was a complete moron who was advising his opposite number in the UK to read a spy novel to try to understand the situation. But it also shows just how influential and how recognised Clancy was within the establishment, even at that time.
Unlike Ian Fleming, or even George Orwell to some extent, Clancy was born an outsider. He is a guy who charmed his way into the establishment by writing popular books that flattered the establishment. I very much believe that was the dynamic at play at that stage at least. However, where this gets really spooky is with Clancy’s relationships with Soviet defectors.
Clancy and Soviet Defectors
This is something that came up in the second part of Clancy’s FBI file, eventually released to The Black Vault but not released to myself or Black Vault or MuckRock or any of the other outlets who put in basically the same request when Clancy died in 2013. But then, they didn’t even send me the first part of Clancy’s file until I noticed other outlets publishing it and sent their FOIA office a snarky email. Useless fuckwits, it’s not hard to stick all the Tom Clancy requests you received within a day or two in one pile and respond to them all at the same time.
In any case, thanks to the Black Vault we now have this extra part of the file, which is Clancy’s SF86 – the Standard Form 86, a questionnaire that you have to fill in to work in any National Security position in the US government. Clancy had to fill one in because he was awarded the position on the White House Space Council. Among the details he had to include were any contacts with members of Soviet, Soviet bloc and Communist countries and it turns out Clancy had rather a lot of contact with such people.
1) Clancy had contact with a captain (2nd rank) in the Soviet Navy, at a reception at the Soviet Embassy which Clancy was escorted to by a Lieutenant Commander of the US Navy
2) Since 1986 he had been friends with with a KGB Major who defected and was now living in the US. Clancy also mentions that the defector wrote an autobiography of some kind, so this man must be Slanislav Levchenko, the author of On the Wrong Side: My Life in the KGB.
3) Again, since 1986 Clancy had known a GRU defector living in the UK. The man, whose real name Clancy says he didn’t know, was a UK citizen who wrote under a pen name. I’m guessing that this was Victor Suvorov, the pen name of a GRU captain who defected to the UK in 1978.
4) The third defector I have been unable to identify, but who was a woman who, like Levchenko, wrote a book about her life and was granted US citizenship in 1989. Clancy was clearly good friends with her – he attended the celebration of [redacted], presumably the CIA, granting her US citizenship.
So Clancy knew three defectors, and met one other Soviet officer by being escorted to a reception at the Soviet embassy by an officer in the US Navy. This leads us the obvious question – how did Clancy get to know Soviet defectors? These people don’t just post their addresses and phone numbers in the newspaper. Clancy must have contacted someone in a position to know, and they must have helped make it happen. Again, the likely suspect is the CIA and given the timeline, when Clancy was invited to Langley after the publication of Red October in ’84 and became acquainted with at least two of these defectors in ’86, did Clancy ask the CIA for help in speaking to and getting to know these ex-Soviets? However, to get to know a defector in Britain living under a pseudonym would presumably require help from British intelligence too, so it seems Clancy spent the 80s cuddling up to a lot of agencies.
None of this adds up to proof that he got his ideas from these contacts, but the idea that he just got it all by swotting over books is extremely unlikely to be true. You can get a lot that way, but if he could get so much then why did he obviously pursue other opportunities and sources, more difficult ones, like Soviet defectors?
Clancy’s ability to predict the future
Nor does it add up to proof that his ability to see the future or know present-day things he shouldn’t have known was the result of government contacts. It’s just the most likely hypothesis. And when we talk about Clancy predicting the future, there is some truly odd and potentially monumental stuff in these books.
That was a clip from Hunt for Red October where Comrade Sean Connery who is about to defect to the US, talking to Comrade Ivan Putin and then killing him because he is not in on the defection plot. It is curious that the one loyal Russian we see in the film is called Putin, especially given that Putin is not a common name. The only famous Putins I can find are all relatives of Vladimir Putin, who at this time was not a public figure in any way, he was working for the KGB in Leningrad. Amusingly, Putin in the film is played by Peter Firth, who goes on to play Harry Pearse in Spooks.
If you want to get really spooky then I suggest you also read Frederick Forsyth’s book Icon, which is all about the rise of a new hard-line post-Communist leader in Russia, and the West then carrying out a coup against him like they tried against the Bolsheviks. Forsyth was an occasional MI6 agent so he like Clancy was in a place to better know the thinking of the establishment than most people are.
But back to Clancy, he also predicted the beginning and the end of the first chapter of the new 21st century War on Terror i.e. 9/11 and the Bin Laden raid. In his very last novel before he died – Dead or Alive – the story depicts a terrorist mastermind known as ‘the Emir’ who is hiding out in a secluded compound near a major military installation, communicating only by courier. The Emir is tracked down and assassinated by Navy SEALS. This was Clancy’s first novel for several years and was published about 6 months before the raid in Abbottabad.
In 1994 Clancy published Debt of Honor, which tells the story of a hijacked plane being crashed into the Capitol building by a suicidal pilot seeking revenge against the US. This was so uncanny that only a few months after 9/11 the BBC put out an episode of Panorama titled September 11th – A Warning From Hollywood. Among their guests were DOD entertainment liaison Phil Strub who was asked about the 1996 movie Executive Decision, which was fully assisted by the DOD:
BRADSHAW: But a film about a jumbo dive bombing in the hands of Muslim extremist in Washington, I mean did you ever feel hey, this could happen, I ought to go and tell the generals?
STRUB: Well, no, no not really. I mean I… we approached that script with a pretty high degree of confidence that our senior leadership is looking at all types of possibilities in the area of terrorism and doing a far better job of it than we could, which is why we’re not doing it.
Then a bit later in the documentary:
Did nobody ever think even after 11th September – hey, that movie was prophetic?
STRUB: Oh well after 9/11 of course. Not necessarily prophetic but eerily reminiscent. We just thought what a tragic coincidence it was that this film had been made that was eerily reminiscent of what had happened here in Washington and New York. But again we didn’t make anything of it. We didn’t feel that that was.. that there was any linkage. It was simply a tragic coincidence.
As is so often the case, Phil Strub is suffering from a little hyperreality here, because of course nothing happened in Washington on 9/11, that was in the film. On 9/11 it was New York and the Pentagon, which is in Arlington, Virginia, south of Washington DC. In any case, Clancy was also interviewed about his ability to predict 9/11, and this clip is available.
Note that Clancy never really answers the question of where he came up with the idea, and if anything tries to make out like it’s obvious but at the same time the Air Force had never thought of that idea before. They certainly had thought about suicide hijackings, as we’ll see shortly, so either the Air Force guy Clancy spoke to was wrong or Clancy was wrong. But there is another point here, implied by what Clancy said there about finding the point of vulnerability.
Fiction as Terrorism
Fiction writers are like terrorist masterminds, in that they have to conceive of original, shocking violent events. That is their stock in trade, because most terrorism is just blowing people up or shooting them and frankly people are no longer shocked by that, or the prospect of that, like they once were. To be a successful fiction writer writing about terrorism, you have to think like a terrorist. To be a successful terrorist, you have to think like a fiction writer. This is aptly demonstrated by two incidents, one before 9/11 and one immediately after it, that may have been inspired by Clancy’s novel Debt of Honor.
On the night of September 11th 1994 Frank Eugene Corder, an unemployed drug-dealing crack-smoking ex-Army soldier stole a small Cessna from an airport in Maryland, flew to Washington and crashed it into the side of the White House. I have written about this incident before and even obtained the full FBI file of the investigation which I edited down into a short dossier on my old website. One FBI cable to the director from the Special Agent in Charge in Baltimore included several recent newspaper stories about the event, including one from a local Maryland paper with the title ‘Crash like Clancy Book’.
In January 2002 a 15 year old called Charles J Bishop stole a small plane and crashed it into the Bank of America tower in downtown Tampa, Florida. You may also remember Joseph Stack who crashed a plane into an IRS building in Texas, there are others going all the way back to Samuel Byck in the early 1970s. Suicide hijackings are a particularly American phenomenon – no other country has seen so many, perhaps because no other country has as much domestic air traffic. Perhaps for other reasons too. But there is no question that these incidents found their way into the military intelligence establishment, as well as helping to inspire numerous movies which in turn predicted the next event. Clancy is merely one link in the chain, and if you want to read a fuller version I will recommend my article series ‘A Brief History of Suicide Hijackings’.
As part of that series I obtained the FBI files on all of these cases except one that they wouldn’t release to me – on David Burke in the 1980s, which is slightly different anyway. In looking through the file on Charles Bishop I came across a 302 recording an interview with one of his teachers where she mentioned that Bishop was a fan of Tom Clancy novels. So were Bishop and Corder copycats, either copying Clancy’s novel or the real events going back all the way to the 70s? It’s entirely possible that growing up that Bishop could have seen news coverage of Corder’s crash in 1994, and if he read Clancy books he could well have read Debt of Honor. I’m sure like all teenagers he couldn’t help but watch the TV coverage of 9/11.
Open Source Terrorism
Going back to the 1987 NY Times article they begin by suggesting that Clancy’s novels actually posed some kind of national security problem:
FROM the wealth of authentic detail in his best-selling novels about superpower brinkmanship, many people assume that Tom Clancy must have served in the armed forces.
In fact, he has no military experience. But he has been reading naval history since the fifth grade, he is fascinated with technology and he reads many specialized journals and reference books intended for engineers and military officers. And the way he has brought it all together in print is an illustration of the kind of synthesis, using only unclassified materials, that Government officials are increasingly concerned about.
There is something to this idea – that by actively trying to conceive of exciting and original scenarios, Clancy and others like him are looking for potential holes in the national security infrastructure. But just like hackers are engaged in a symbiotic Darwinian struggle with that infrastructure and in doing so they are making it stronger, so did Clancy’s novels.
They did this in two ways – (1) in terms of finding conceptual holes and thus allowing them to be plugged, or exploited by nefarious planners of false flag terrorist attacks, if you think that way and (2) in terms of promoting the security state as the heroes, no matter what they do. So, this form of open source terrorism, of using deep research to create fiction set in the real world both challenges the security state conceptually but promotes that state to the vast majority of its readers.
And that is the secret world of Tom Clancy, perhaps the most important spy author of recent times.