Richard Klein is one of the most important people in the entertainment industry that you have never heard of – a former State Department employee who now works for McLarty Associates – an elite Washington DC law firm – as their liaison to Hollywood. Klein has worked with most of the major studios on some of the biggest film series, from Transformers to James Bond to Fast & Furious, alongside government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic including the CIA. Put another way, why does Star Trek: Beyond need an ‘international political advisor’?
Richard Klein’s career in government
Klein now works for McLarty Associates (more on them below) but before that he worked in government, most notably under the first Clinton presidency for the Department of State. As McLarty’s website describes:
He was part of the 1992 Clinton/Gore presidential campaign, helping to craft policy and messages on emerging global issues. He was subsequently appointed by President Clinton to head the speechwriting staff and be part of the policy planning office at the Department of Commerce, reporting directly to Secretaries Ron Brown, Mickey Kantor and Bill Daley successively. From the Commerce Department, Mr. Klein was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Special Assistant for International Security Affairs at the Department of State, the bureau charged with monitoring and enforcing international economic sanctions, the export of technologies and materials with national security relevance, arms control treaties and nuclear and missile technology non-proliferation efforts.
As such, Klein worked at and with the senior ranks within government, in jobs demanding a high level security clearance. Indeed, his position at the State Department as Special Assistant for International Security Affairs is not a permanent role, it appears that Klein is the only one to have ever held that title.
Richard Klein and McLarty
In 1999 former Clinton Chief of Staff Mack McLarty joined forces with Henry Kissinger’s law firm to create Kissinger McLarty Associates. They separated into two companies in early 2008, by which time Klein had joined the McLarty team as the managing director of their Middle East & North Africa Practice. Some time around 2006-7 Klein also founded McLarty Media, the media consultancy arm of the company.
Since then Klein and the McLarty firm have worked on The Kingdom, Miami Vice, The Kite Runner, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Bruno, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Safe House, The Bourne Legacy, Skyfall, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, White House Down, Kill the Messenger, Blackhat, Fast and Furious 7, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Star Trek: Beyond and the forthcoming Fast 8, War Machine (a satirical look at the war in Afghanistan), Thank You for Your Service (a film about soldiers with PTSD) and First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (Angelina Jolie saving the world with a film about the Khmer Rouge).
Meanwhile, McLarty remains one of the best-connected inside the beltway law firms in the whole of DC. Mack McLarty is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (as is Jolie), is on the advisory board to the Cato Institute and is a senior advisor to the Carlyle Group. McLarty as a firm work closely with The Scowcroft Group, are members of the American-Turkish Council and have numerous connections to David Rockefeller’s Council of the Americas e.g. John D Negroponte is Vice Chairman of McLarty and as his bio on their site notes is the Chairman Emeritus of the Council of the Americas.
Klein ‘Not a Movie Guy’
While the involvement of such a law firm in the entertainment industry is something of a mystery, the really strange thing is that Klein says, ‘I was so not a movie guy… I didn’t know anything about this business until getting thrown into it.’ If this is true then why did he found McLarty Media and why has he managed it for the last decade? Why is a man who is ‘not a movie guy’ running around with some of the biggest film-makers in the business, including JJ Abrams, probably the heavyweight producer of his generation? And why does Klein say he was ‘thrown into it’ when he created this branch of the McLarty firm? Was he following orders from someone else, despite his lack of interest and total lack of experience in the entertainment world? How does a guy go from being a Special Assistant at the State Department overseeing arms control treaties to providing political advice to the makers of Skyfall?
The same article in the New Yorker makes out that Klein’s primary role is in helping film companies gain access to exotic locations:
In 2006, the firm helped the director Peter Berg get access to shoot “The Kingdom” in Abu Dhabi, since Saudi Arabia was impractical. When Michael Bay wanted to film “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” at Giza, in Egypt, Klein helped make arrangements. And he is responsible for the shot, in “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” where Tom Cruise dangles off the side of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower.
Likewise his IMDB bio says:
He has served as an adviser to most major Hollywood film studios, helping to find and secure hard-to-access production locations that can enhance a film’s authenticity or dramatic look, counseling writers and directors on accurate script development and topics of political and cultural sensitivity, briefing cast and crew on character development and film location realities, and advising studios’ marketing campaigns on possible political and cultural missteps.
As we will see, his role is considerably more than this. It is certainly relevant that a high proportion of the films and franchises that Klein has worked on have been sponsored by one or more government agencies. The Kite Runner, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Transformers were supported by the Pentagon, Skyfall and the most recent Mission: Impossible by the British Ministry of Defence. While the US Air Force has helped the Star Trek franchise in the past, there is so far no solid evidence of them aiding the rebooted film series. Kill the Messenger was made by a bunch of people who have worked on CIA-assisted productions, though what if any role the Agency had in producing it is not clear.
However, White House Down was refused access to some parts of the White House because the Pentagon rejected the producers’ request for production assistance. As Phil Strub explained:
The basic premise was a fundamental show-stopper for us. Imagine the same scenario at Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace. Obviously Roland likes to blow up iconic real estate around the world, but we saw no compelling reason to join in his efforts. Plus the picture wasn’t likely to help military recruiting or retention, or inform the public.
Strangely, this did not stop the Pentagon from quietly supporting the nearly-identical Olympus has Fallen.
Richard Klein and Argo/The Interview
However, there are indications that Klein was involved in at least two CIA-assisted productions without being credited on them: The Interview and Argo. Ben Affleck’s Argo is one of very few films to have been granted permission to film on the CIA headquarters campus at Langley (others include Scorpio, Mission: Impossible, Patriot Games and Game of Pawns). Bryan Cranston, who plays Ben Affleck’s Agency supervisor in the film, described what it was like to film within the CIA building:
There was top security and I mean top, when we were working there they said ‘all phones off’ and ‘OK, right, yeah yeah’ and the CIA police are walking around. Two police officers came around the corner once and I said ‘is everything OK?’ and they said ‘yeah, there’s a Samsung phone on in one of these two gentleman’s pockets’. The fact that he knew the brand and exactly where it was, because of the electronics… So it’s a little, it’s a very interesting culture to dive into but it was quite an eye-opener being out there.
The curious thing is that Rich Klein told the exact same story about Argo filming at Langley and the conversation about the phone to Nick Schou, who quotes Klein in his recent book Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood. So either Klein went through all the Argo blu ray bonus features as obsessively as I did – which is possible, but would be odd for someone who is ‘not a movie guy’ – or Klein himself was not just involved on Argo but was present at Langley for the scenes being shot there.
The case with The Interview is equally mysterious. Klein was not credited as a technical advisor and the most exotic location where they shot was in Canada. On Christmas Eve 2014 the Washington Post ran an article by Klein reviewing The Interview – which at that point was not publicly available. Klein opened the piece by admitting:
As a frequent advisor to filmmakers telling complex internationally-themed stories or needing to shoot in tough-to-access locations, I am one of a handful of people in Washington who has actually seen The Interview.
Klein went on to say that the film was ‘very funny’ (it isn’t) and that it is ‘quite subversive to the Pyongyang government’ (it isn’t). What Klein did not make clear is that he was a consultant to the film – not on its production, but on the controversy around it. According to Vanity Fair:
While publicly embracing the controversy, Rogen and Goldberg privately sought assurances. They contacted Rich Klein at McLarty Associates, who “walked them through the North Korean pattern of behavior going back to the 1980s.” Klein warned the filmmakers that North Korea is a government-sanctioned participant in terrorism and assassinations that has kidnapped civilians, and that its officials “have acted irrationally when they feel cornered.” How? “A physical strike in the U.S. would be beyond North Korea’s capabilities,” Klein said. “But we firmly believed that the North Koreans could try to stop the movie through a cyber-attack.”
This conversation took place before the Sony hack, implying that Klein either has the gift of clairvoyancy or knew what was about to happen. The CIA connections to The Interview range from emails made available because of the hack showing that ‘a former CIA agent’ looked at the script, through to Seth Rogen saying ‘Throughout this process, we made relationships with certain people who work in the government as consultants, who I’m convinced are in the CIA’.
So, along with predicting the Sony hack, did Klein write his review for the Washington Post as a favour to the film-makers, praising it both as a piece of entertainment and for its politically subversive qualities? If so, what connection does Klein have to the CIA, who were all over this production like a bukake party?
Richard Klein and the CIA
Aside from Argo and The Interview there is another substantial CIA connection to Klein, in the form of CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou:
After retiring, Kiriakou met Richard Klein, a former speechwriter and State Department official under the Clinton Administration, who had become a managing director at McLarty Associates, a Washington-based consulting firm. One of Klein’s jobs was to help movie studios and producers secure permission to shoot films in developing or unstable countries. He hired Kiriakou to serve on a board made up of former C.I.A. officers, diplomats, and F.B.I. agents, who reviewed scripts about spies or terrorism to make them more realistic…
…About a year later, Sacha Baron Cohen retained McLarty to help on a follow-up to his 2006 hit “Borat.” Baron Cohen wanted to make a similar film, “Brüno,” in which he would play an over-the-top gay Austrian fashion journalist. He asked about a particular gag he had in mind, as Kiriakou recalled it: “I want to get in front of bona-fide terrorists—I’m thinking Al Qaeda, maybe Hezbollah—and I want to show them Polaroids of men having anal sex and ask them if it constitutes torture.”
Kiriakou said that he advised Baron Cohen to “stay away from the religious types, because they will kill you, your crew, and they will go out into the streets and kill people who remind them of you.” He suggested that Baron Cohen film in Damascus. Syria was peaceful at the time and home to retired leftist Palestinian revolutionaries who might cooperate.
As such, Klein is not just helping the producers of Fast & Furious get permission to film in Abu Dhabi but is running a panel of ex-CIA and -FBI agents who advise on scripts in the pre-production phase. This is presumably what Klein’s credit for ‘script development’ on Kill the Messenger entailed, and indeed Kiriakou’s credit as a ‘script consultant’.
Who is Rich Klein?
So who is Rich Klein? A guy who isn’t into movies, or one of the foremost political consultants in Hollywood? A ex-State Department guy who just happens to work with ex-CIA guys on developing scripts for major movies, or a man on a mission? A man who just happened to watch Bryan Cranston talking about filming at Langley, or someone who was there but for some reason was never credited on Argo? It is hard to say because definitive evidence of Klein’s ongoing relationship with government agencies is not available to us. However, as we move into a period where the CIA and DOD appear to be keeping very tight-lipped on their involvement in the entertainment industry, the likes of Klein potentially become a lot more important. In any case, Richard Klein is a name to watch.