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Black operations make the world go round, and have become the subject of major movies and TV, from Jack Ryan to The Interview. But how did we get to this point, where assassinations and coup d’etats have become acceptable fodder for screenwriters? In this episode I chart the decades-long history of the influence of the CIA and Pentagon on Hollywood depictions of black ops, first in censoring these operations and more recently in normalising them.

Almost since the very inception the United States has waged covert warfare against target nations, whether by interfering in elections, supporting opposition factions even when (or especially when?) they’re fascists, bribing government leaders and high officials and – when all of the above doesn’t work – staging coup d’etats.

As John Perkins describes in his books, these operations are often preceded by attempts at corporate bribery and other influence-peddling by economic hitmen. Say a county has a fresh water supply, I’m particularly thinking of those with tropical climates and thus very rapid water cycles – lots of rain, lots of lakes and rivers. Say an American-led international corporation wants access to that water, so they can bottle it up and profit from it.

What typically happens is that people like Perkins would make entreaties on behalf of these corporations, often putting together some sort of infrastructure project – hydroelectricity or somesuch – using World Bank loans to fund it. Then they bribe, beg and bully whichever officials they can get their hands on to artificially generate political support for the project. The target country, if it gives in to these power plays, loses control of its natural resources, becomes more indebted, more integrated in the global capitalist order.

When that doesn’t work, or a country takes radical steps against that capitalist order, the economic hit men step back and the black operators fly in. For most of its existence, the CIA have been the primary instrument for carrying out these particular black operations, from the Congo to Cambodia. But for a long time they didn’t want anyone knowing about it, even censoring books by former officers such as Victor Marchetti’s The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence to remove details of these Agency ‘special activities’.

The Pentagon has also been deployed as a covert weapon, with figures like Ed Lansdale turning up on both sides of the CIA/DOD divide. Lansdale first helped put down the Marxist Huk rebellion in the Philippines while working for the US Air Force, before hooking up with the CIA in Vietnam and later becoming involved in anti-Cuba operations, including the notorious Northwoods plan.

I think it’s important to recognise how these institutions, and these sorts of operations in particular, are instruments of a global order dominated by corporate power. Fascists are often used as the footsoldiers of capitalism, and we must understand that we cannot have this form of capitalism without dominion over the world, or at least without militarism (whether overt or covert) underpinning the operations of capital. So, large scale military spending is both funded by international capitalism and serves it. Likewise, technological advancement and technocratic government.

What we’re going to focus on today is an almost totally unrecognised aspect to this more covert US foreign policy – namely, the role Hollywood has played in propagandising the US and global public – first to protect the CIA and DOD and their black operations, and more recently to promote and normalise them.

Animals from The Farm

Back in the 1950s, when the CIA were interfering everywhere from Guatemala to Indonesia to Syria, Hollywood helped shield the Agency from the limelight. The Production Code Administration – the movie industry’s own self-regulation office – helped keep the CIA’s name out of numerous films. When this failed, the CIA stepped in, removing any reference to themselves from scripts, such as on the Bob Hope comedy My Favorite Spy (1951).

When I wrote up this story for Covert Action Magazine one of the commenters pointed to the 1967 film The President’s Analyst. It was an early conspiracy thriller-type movie which openly criticised the FBI and CIA, calling them out by name. Apparently due to pressure from the FBI, they removed those acronyms from the script, replacing them with FBR and CEA.

While the Agency, with Hollywood’s help, were keeping out of public view, they were subtly promoting the idea of rebellions and coups against left-wing governments. The 1954 animated adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm was secretly sponsored by the CIA, who bought the rights from Orwell’s widow before hiring a British production company to do the legwork.

As recounted in Francis Stonor Saunders’ book The Cultural Cold War, this led to a crucial change in the script. A 1952 Psychological Strategy Board memo reviewing the Animal Farm script commented, ‘theme somewhat confusing and the impact of the story as expressed in cartoon sequence… somewhat nebulous. Although the symbolism is apparently plain, there is no great clarity of message.’

Note, this document is not available on CREST, the CIA’s archive, but Saunders located it in a presidential library. I have not seen it myself, I’m working on getting a copy of the whole file, in case there is further information on the Animal Farm project.

The core problem was that at the end of the story it is revealed that the authoritarianism of both the men (the capitalists) and the pigs (the Soviets) is equally corrupt, and that neither offer a way forward for workers and ordinary people. As Orwell wrote, the creatures of the farm looked through the farmhouse window and saw both pigs and men, ‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’

However, in the CIA-influenced cartoon version, for popular consumption, the ending was changed so it shows the creatures only recognising the corruption of the pigs, i.e. the Soviets, and then mounting a counter-revolution against them. This pro-revolutionary message – but only when the revolution deposes or fights against a left-wing government – was the first salvo in a battle that has since grown into all-out cultural warfare.

Scorpions and Man-Eating Sharks

After the debacle at the Bay of Pigs the CIA could no longer maintain its secret status, and the Production Code Administration’s stranglehold over movie content was weakening. This had led to the Agency being openly named and discussed in movie scripts, so they started quietly monitoring screenplays for any references to themselves.

For example, when it came to Vanished – the first-ever TV mini-series, from 1971 – the CIA kept close tabs on the production as well as responses from reviewers. Months before it was broadcast, a memo from the CIA’s General Counsel to then-director Richard Helms contains a review of the script. It notes how the DCI was referred to in a scene set in the Oval Office, where the President says, ‘Don’t let that surface charm fool you. He’s a man-eating shark. Of course, he’s our man-eating shark and thoroughly dedicated to his job.’

The CIA did not intervene to try to have this line changed – it appears in the broadcast version – so we can only assume that being characterised as loyal, dedicated man-eating sharks was acceptable to them. Better that than disloyal and incompetent, I guess.

This same dark image of the CIA also features in Scorpio two years later, in which the Agency tries to kill one of their own due to fear of him exposing secrets. Scorpio was so beloved by the CIA that it became the first film to be allowed access to shoot at the Agency’s Langley headquarters, and officials even made up a batch of scorpion badges to hand out to the crew when they arrived. According to director Michael Winner in his autobiography, a ‘nice CIA lady’ who was handing out the badges told him ‘This will show we’ve got a sense of humour, Mr Winner!’

However, then came the Church Committee and the revelations that the CIA were staging coups and assassinating people at will, with apparently no oversight. The CIA set up an Office of Public Affairs in the late 70s to help manage its public image, but essentially withdrew from the entertainment industry until the early 90s.

In the late 70s and 80s, several efforts were made to produce a CIA-themed TV show in the manner of the long-running ABC series The F.B.I., including one backed by the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, but they all died due to a lack of interest from the Agency. I will do an episode recounting all this, because there are essentially five different TV shows or documentary series that were never made due to the CIA refusing cooperation.

Likewise, when the Reagan White House’s Hollywood liaison Joe Holmes reached out to then-DCI Bill Casey about supporting an unnamed movie production, the request was also turned down. A note from CIA executive director John McMahon to Casey urged him to reject the request and ‘keep to the reduced silhouette path.’ Casey agreed, and his handwritten note says, ‘James Bond is my favorite anyway’. Of course, James Bond had some sort of connection with the CIA going all the way back to the novels, and Fleming’s relationship with Allen Dulles.

The upshot of this is that while the CIA were conducting two of the largest covert operations of all time – Iran-Contra and Operation Cyclone – they were largely absent from pop culture. Casey’s policy of trying to reinstitute the secrecy the Agency had enjoyed in its early years was working, at least as far as Hollywood were concerned.

There were a couple of notable exceptions – the Tom Hanks movie The Man with One Red Shoe, which was produced by Robert Cort, a former CIA officer who worked in the movie business. He hired two other ex-CIA officers, both women, who consulted on the project. The same year, the Dan Aykroyd comedy Spies Like Us also came out, where there’s a brief sequence set in Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan. The movie used Frank Snepp as a consultant, who was the first man to ever get a screenplay vetted and cleared by the CIA, though this doesn’t appear to be Spies Like Us, I’m not sure if that approved script was ever made.

Mission Impossible, Black Operations and the Church Committee

Then, things started to shift. In 1991 the CIA granted permission for the makers of the Tom Clancy adaptation Patriot Games to shoot at Langley. After giving multiple tours of CIA headquarters to the likes of Phillip Noyce and Harrison Ford an internal memo says, ‘The team seems set on following the novel closely and retaining Clancy’s positive view of the Agency.’

The film itself is fairly dull, but there’s a crucial plot point worth highlighting. Ford’s character – Jack Ryan – starts the film having left the Agency, but when some Irish terrorists start causing him grief, trying to kill him, he returns to the CIA to get their protection. The sequence of Ford going up the stairs, through the doors, and over the seal in the lobby of the Old Headquarters Building is him going back to his old job.

Note, in all of these lobby sequences you get a shot of the stars on the memorial wall, for CIA employees who’ve been killed while working for the Agency. This serves several purposes, including reinforcing the myth that leaking secrets automatically puts lives in danger. This is particularly the case with Patriot Games, because there has already been multiple attempts on Ryan’s life before we see this shot. Similarly, 13 Hours, Michael Bay’s Benghazi film, closes on a shot reproducing the memorial wall, because the CIA wouldn’t let him film the real one.

Getting back to our story, in the mid-1990s the CIA became more pro-active, setting up its own entertainment liaison office modelled on the equivalents at the Pentagon and the FBI. The first major production they worked on was Mission: Impossible (1996), which also filmed at Langley for the establishing shot setting up the famous heist sequence.

This special access was apparently in exchange for changes to how the CIA are depicted in the script. Perhaps the most important change was during an insert shot where a senator is being interviewed about the CIA on TV. The script originally had the senator saying:

I’ll go you one further. I say the CIA and all its shadow organizations have become irrelevant at best and unconstitutional at worst.  It’s time we throw a little light on the whole concept of the Pentagon’s ‘black budget.’  These covert agency subgroups have confidential funding, they report to no one – who are these people?!  We were living in a democracy the last time I checked.

This scene was diluted to remove these lines, and in the finished film the insert shot instead has the interviewer say, ‘Senator, it sounds as if you want to lead the kind of charge – that Sen. Church led in the 70’s, and destroy the US’ intelligence capability.’ The senator simply responds, ‘I want to know who they are and how they’re spending the taxpayers’ money.  We were living in a democracy the last time I checked.’

Instead of the dialogue being a pointed critique of the CIA and Pentagon’s secret, black operations it became a dig at the Church Committee, labelling anyone who tries to provide oversight of the CIA as a threat to the nation. You see how it all comes together – the repeated imagery of the memorial wall, the dialogue changes, the tolerance for a dark depiction of the CIA as long as it serves their overall purpose of being shown to be necessary.

The Pentagon Censors Black Operations in Hollywood Scripts

The Pentagon has also shaped and censored movies to cover up for black operations they’d rather the public at large didn’t know about, think about or talk about. The DOD-Hollywood database records how they rejected Seven Days in May (1962), ‘In light of story of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff planning a coup because president signed a disarmament treaty.’

OK, that was for a film depicting a coup against the US government, so I can see their point. But it’s also because it’s an anti-nuke, anti-war film. Rather amusingly, the film-makers managed to sneak their way onto a US Navy ship by blagging the captain. He never checked upstairs, so there are some authentic shots of the ship in the movie. The director of the original 1933 King Kong did a similar thing with an airfield, to get a shot of the planes taking off.

A few years later, John Wayne’s The Green Berets was supported, but only after lengthy script negotiations. The database says, ‘Original script showed Green Berets going into North Vietnam, which the Army required be deleted.’ A military file on the film shows that they also required the film-makers to delete references to over-the-border raids on Laos. While these sorts of black bag activities were commonplace in the actual war, they were removed from the Hollywood version.

Indeed, given how the war expanded into Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, it seems the earlier scripts for The Green Berets were a more honest depiction of the war. Given that Wayne explicitly set out to make a movie to try to sell the war to the American public, we have to assume these details were included to help normalise these sorts of operations. Clearly, Hollywood was ahead of the Pentagon on this.

Other films weren’t so lucky.

In 1986 the producers of The Best Ranger approached the DOD for help, but were turned down, ‘Because the US military becomes involved in a fictional military attempt on President Aquino’s life and a take-over of the government of the republic of the Philippines.’ The film was never made.

Similarly, Countermeasures – a high-cast movie from the 1990s about a weapons smuggling conspiracy on board a US aircraft carrier – was turned down because the DOD saw ‘no reason to denigrate the White House or remind the public of the Iran-Contra affair.’ It too was never made.

We have discussed in some detail the cinema of Iran-Contra, and how both the DOD and CIA helped kill movies about those operations, or at least with plots that were clearly inspired by the reporting on Iran-Contra. When you put this together with Ben Bradlee killing Bob Woodward’s story about CIA funding and arming of the Contras, and Bradlee being some sort of long-term asset of the CIA, the extent of this censorship really comes into focus.

Iron Man to the Rescue in Afghanistan

Since the turn of the 21st century and the arrival of the information age, the strategy appears to have changed. These days it’s easy enough for anyone to simply search ‘CIA coup d’etats’ and find no end of open source material, even Agency documents describing in detail how, for example, they used false flag ‘sham bombings’ during their coup in Iran in 1953.

This shifting of the outer limits of public knowledge means that simply denying that these sorts of operations take place is no longer a viable option, and so censoring them out of movie and TV scripts accomplishes very little. There are some other examples of this late-20th century censorship, such as Commando, but that deserves its own episode.

Instead, the CIA and DOD have switched gears and are now trying to normalise these actions, even using superhero movies to try to make them seem cool.

Iron Man (2008) got the ball rolling. An early script shows that the intention was to make a film castigating the military-industrial complex, with Tony rebelling against his father, a major weapons manufacturer. This version was due to go into production in 2005, but the project died before being resurrected as a vehicle to launch Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

While the original script removed Tony’s Vietnam-era origin story – where he is kidnapped by Vietnamese soldiers and forced to make weapons for them – the newly-updated version, with full Pentagon support, simply updated this to Afghanistan. Tony is shown in his full military-industrial glory demonstrating incredibly destructive weapons.

When Tony is kidnapped, the terrorist leader shows off his vast collection of modern weaponry, leading Tony to ask where he got them from. As the film’s director Jon Favreau admitted during an unofficial live commentary for the movie, the leader’s response was ‘Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush’ – a reference to how US foreign policy had resulted in vast quantities of weapons flooding into the region over recent decades. This was removed from the film.

With lines like this nixed from the movie, Iron Man spends most of the second act of the film acting as a hi-tech adjunct to the US military, conducting violent covert operations in Afghanistan while being answerable to no-one. The implication is that being American and having access to high technologies gives one extra-legal rights to do almost anything.

At the same time as Iron Man was filming scenes at Edwards Air Force Base, the US military’s Task Force 373 was in action in Afghanistan. In June 2007, armed with HIMARS – High Mobility Rocket Systems, not unlike those on the Iron Man suit – they set out to assassinate Abu Laith al-Libi. They killed thirteen people – six that they claim were Taliban fighters, and seven innocent children.

The Suicide Squad Invade Latin America

The most recent collaboration between the Pentagon and the superhero genre was James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (2021). The original screenwriter, Adam Cozad, went on an Air Force-arranged tour of US Space Command in the summer of 2017.

Once Cozad was replaced by Gunn he wrote a new script, and as soon as it was complete the DOD ‘Began a conversation with Warner Brothers Studios exploring possible DOD support of an upcoming feature film, a sequel to the 2016 film ‘Suicide Squad’.’ Documents from the Pentagon’s entertainment liaison office show that ‘Producers request the use of CV-22 aircraft. General script notes have been provided to the producers.’

The CV-22 (also known as ‘the Transformer’ as it converts from a helicopter into a plane in mid-air) appears a few minutes into the film. It flies several small-time superheroes into the fictional Latin American nation of Corto Maltese where they are trying to overthrow the new government, who are considered a threat to US interests. The backstory, as explained in The Suicide Squad, is that the previous government was a dictatorship but was US-friendly, whereas the new government is not.

Combined with the first main action sequence – an amphibious assault whereby the low-grade superhero team are ambushed by government forces – this storyline is clearly drawn from US relations with Cuba. A right-wing, US-friendly dictator was deposed during the Cuban revolution and replaced by a more radical, left-wing government. The US then set about destabilising and trying to overthrow that government and assassinate its leader, including a failed amphibious assault at the Bay of Pigs.

In The Suicide Squad, the Corto Maltese radicals overthrow the government in bloody fashion – machine-gunning a room full of high officials and military brass, before appearing on TV talking about free and fair elections. Gunn’s film doesn’t just promote this sort of covert action by the US, it rubs the audience’s faces in the great lie that the US does these things in furtherance of democracy.

Interrogating The Interview

Getting back to the CIA, we should also mention The Good Shepherd, which is another very dark depiction of the CIA but nonetheless was provided with support. The production designer toured Langley to get ideas for props and set dressing to act as symbolic imagery in the film, and got an Academy Award for her efforts.

The CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence did a roundtable review of the movie, which was quite critical but in the end endorsed The Good Shepherd. Black operations feature quite heavily in the plot, as CIA historian David Robarge said:

There are many great Agency stories yet to hit the screen. One that
comes to mind is the Congo episode, from 1960 through 1965 or so. From
decolonization, you have the Agency’s efforts to get rid of Patrice
Lumumba, the Simba uprising, the capture of hostages in two Congolese
cities, the mounting of a major paramilitary effort to rescue them that
included CIA officers, and then after a civil war, the establishment of a
pliant dictator—an archetype of the sort of leader we’ve used many time
elsewhere in the world—this is a great story. The closest thing Hollywood
has done is Tears in the Sun with Bruce Willis, but that’s just Rambo in the

So, lacking alternatives, The Good Shepherd is probably as good as any film
on the Agency. For the intelligence professional it’s probably worth seeing,
at least to be able to discuss it intelligently in social and professional

Yet another government-supported production that promotes US covert interventions is The Interview (2014), a comedy in part inspired by Dennis Rodman’s visit to North Korea in 2013. The story revolves around two TV stars who are invited to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un, and are subsequently recruited by the CIA to attempt an assassination on Kim.

You could be forgiven for suspecting that a story about the CIA working with the entertainment industry in a covert capacity was quietly supported and encouraged by the CIA. In an interview the writer/producer and star Seth Rogen said, ‘We made relationships with certain people who work in the government as consultants, who I’m convinced are in the CIA.’ He elaborated, explaining that, when Kim disappeared for a week, he emailed one of the consultants who reassured him that Kim was having ankle surgery and ‘would be back in a couple of weeks.’ Sure enough, Kim was back in the public eye two weeks later.

The North Korean government labelled the film an ‘act of war’ and Sony Pictures, who’d produced it, were hacked and thousands of internal documents were leaked online. These showed that senior Sony executives had discussed the film with the State Department, even shown them cuts of the movie.

Furthermore, according to leaked emails, during a press ‘visit the set’ event someone let slip that a ‘former CIA agent and someone who used to work for Hilary Clinton looked at the script.’ One email exchange between executives Marisa Liston and Keith Weaver highlights concerns about this slip, but as Weaver put it, ‘Depending on how this comes up, this can go in any number of directions in terms of how it’s interpreted.’

Concerned about the film’s potential political impact, producers Rogen and Evan Goldberg reached out to Rich Klein of McLarty Media, who internal CIA documents refer as a ‘long time contact’ of Langley’s Office of Public Affairs. Months later, on the day before The Interview was released, Klein wrote an editorial in support of the film calling it a ‘subversive and damn funny movie’ and suggesting that ‘if copies are pirated into North Korea, it is a very real challenge to the ruling regime’s legitimacy.’

Klein’s prediction proved ‘prophetic’, as a few months after the film was released South Korean activists started sending huge numbers of balloons into North Korea carrying tens-of-thousands of USB sticks and DVDs containing copies of The Interview. This was before the film was available on DVD in many countries (including the UK), but none of the media coverage of the event addressed the large-scale copyright infringement inherent in this ‘activism.’

This is virtually identical to CIA efforts during the Cold War when balloons were used to drop millions of leaflets, copies of books and even terrorism training manuals to populations in Soviet states or countries with left-wing governments. It appears that the CIA not only softly helped to make The Interview but were also involved in using it as a weapon of psychological warfare against the North Korean government. Whether this was effective is unclear due to the near-total absence of reporting from inside North Korea.

Jack Ryan vs Clear and Present Danger

Perhaps the most astonishingly blunt PR effort on behalf of the CIA and DOD’s black operations is Amazon’s Jack Ryan, the TV reboot of the Clancy franchise. Written by a former Marine, Jack Ryan has benefited from assistance from the CIA, the DOD and the US Coast Guard, who are both an adjunct of the US Navy and a component of the Department of Homeland Security.

The DOD actually rejected season one after reading scripts for the first few episodes. A document from the summer of 2017 says they were ‘very well-written, ‘page-turners’, but hopeless for DOD.’ It seems that the depiction of a drunken, traumatised drone pilot gambling and cavorting in Las Vegas, and US soldiers paying off Yemenis for the bodies of jihadis targeted in drone strikes was a bit rich for the Pentagon’s blood.

However, the finished series was deemed acceptable, and heavily promoted by the US military, with hundreds of uniformed servicemen attending the premiere aboard a US battleship in Los Angeles.

Season two of Jack Ryan shifted focus from the Middle East and the War on Terror to Russia and Venezuela. The opening episode sees Jack go down to Venezuela in search of supposed Russian nukes that had been smuggled into the country. His convoy is ambushed in a scene that is creepily reminiscent of a scene in Clear and Present Danger (1994), which like Jack Ryan season two was supported by the CIA and the DOD.

A comparison between these two Clancy adaptations, produced over 20 years apart, illustrates the shift in approach within the entertainment liaison offices. Clear and Present Danger centres around the US running black operations in Colombia to try to stem the flow of drugs into the US – a reversal of the Iran-Contra scandal whereby the CIA were colluding with major drug traffickers in order to raise money for supporting the Contras in Nicaragua.

An elite special forces squad is sent into Colombia to take on the drug cartel directly, in the form of sabotage and assassinations. Early versions of the script had the president, the National Security Advisor and senior CIA officials all conspiring to run this covert operation, but this proved problematic for the military’s PR staff.

Files on the film show that the first approach from the producer was in 1991, but a US Army memo reviewing the script records a fairly critical response, saying, ‘My real difficulty is the way our soldiers are ‘shanghaied’ into a black – superblack operation. On a larger scale, I do not see how we can support unless DOD – with the concurrence of State, CIA, Justice and the White House – agrees to support.’

The film-makers returned in 1993 but many of the same problems remained, with the Joint Staff objecting

These are portrayed as unilateral US actions, not coordinated with the governments of the countries in which the actions take place. Latin American countries are extremely sensitive to any violations of their sovereignty.

If only the US government were as concerned with the sovereignty of Latin American countries in real life as they are in the movies.

As a result, there were many months of negotiations with the DOD, including discussions with the CIA, White House, State Department, Justice Department, FBI and others, before support was granted. The size of the conspiracy was reduced, to make it the result of a handful of bad actors rather than outright US foreign policy. The President was removed from the conspiracy and his racist comments about South Americans were deleted. The CIA involvement in the operation was reduced to a single, rogue agent, and it is made clear that the Colombian government is aware of the covert invasion and approves.

By comparison, Jack Ryan is far more explicit. Jack and his merry band of CIA cohorts have no permission to be in the country, and set about influencing an election to try to sway it in favour of their preferred candidate, just like the real CIA have been doing in Venezuela for decades.

However, the series flipped the script for a modern audience, portraying the incumbent Venezuelan president as a right-wing dictator who is facing off against a liberal human rights activist. This inverts reality, whereby the CIA have frequently supported and even installed authoritarian dictators in Latin America, often overthrowing left-wing governments in the process.

Nonetheless, the second season of Jack Ryan openly depicts the CIA operating covertly in Venezuela to shape and influence its politics, and heroises this as necessary for US national security. Even when it means Jack and his buddies chopping off people’s fingers and keeping them in the fridge as mementoes.

Remember, Jack’s a man-eating shark, but he’s our man-eating shark.

Both the CIA and the DOD were fully on board with this depiction, in sharp contrast to their approach to a very similar storyline in early scripts for Clear and Present Danger. The US Navy loaned the producers a warship, Blackhawk helicopters play a key role in flying Jack to the presidential palace to hunt down the dictator, and star Michael Kelly was given a tour of CIA headquarters – a benefit enjoyed in season one by John Krasinski and Wendell Pierce. CIA consultants worked on both seasons, with Krasinski commenting ‘They’re always checking in with us and we’re always checking in with them.’

Normalising the Unthinkable – Black Operations

We have to conclude, therefore, that while in the past the CIA and DOD have proven very sensitive about being depicted conducting worldwide black operations, that they have shifted tac to trying to normalise these activities. As Edward Herman noted, ‘Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on ‘normalization’. This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as ‘the way things are done’.’

Had Herman ever had access to the many thousands of pages of government documents now available on their relationship with Hollywood, he would undoubtedly agree that this normalisation is reaching fever pitch. The entertainment industry is openly portraying some of the darkest actions of the CIA and DOD, from death squads to coup d’etats, often with the help of those selfsame agencies.

These depictions do vary, and on occasion still go too far. For example, the most recent Clancyverse film Without Remorse (2021) – which portrays a Navy SEAL torturing, murdering and going completely off-book – was rejected by the DOD. But the CIA and DOD are increasingly coming round to the view that normalisation is more effective than censorship, and that portraying black operations as either heroic, or at least a necessary evil in a complex and hostile world, is working wonders for their ability to continue carrying them out.