The CIA and Hollywood Season 1
The CIA and Hollywood is an ongoing series hosted by Tom Secker and Pearse Redmond where we examine the relationship between the world’s most powerful intelligence agency and the world’s most influential mass culture industry. In this first season we look at 11 films over 7 episodes, examining CIA-assisted movies both past and present. We focus in on the work of Chase Brandon, the CIA’s first Entertainment Liaison Officer in the 1990s and early 2000s, looking at the themes, characters and dramatic techniques that turn up time and again in these films.
This season serves as an excellent introduction to the topic of the CIA’s relationship with Hollywood, and there are plans for a further two seasons. You can purchase a full download of the whole season including source documents here.
Episode 01 – The CIA and George Orwell
In this opening episode of the new series Pearse and Tom look into the CIA’s adaptations of George Orwell’s two most famous novels – Animal Farm and 1984. We focus primarily on Animal Farm, a revolutionary animated film in several senses of the word, produced by Louis De Rochemont – a man who had worked with several other government agencies prior to making Animal Farm with the CIA. The animation was does by British firm Halas and Bachelor, and we also discuss their background. This episode also examines the paper trail, looking in Orwell’s FBI file and the MI5 records on actor Michael Redgrave, who starred in 1984 despite being a suspected Communist. We conclude that the CIA had something of an obsession with Orwell at this time, and were subverting his works quite radically in these films.
Episode 02 – The CIA and Robert De Niro
Guillermo Jimenez joins us for this episode to talk about Robert De Niro – a man whose relationship with the CIA spans two decades. We look at four films – Wag the Dog, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and The Good Shepherd, the latter three of which have documented CIA assistance in their production. We discuss Robert De Niro’s transformation from a serious dramatic actor into a kooky comedy figure, and the CIA’s apparent involvement in that. This led to us asking whether the three comedy films are trojan horses for a sneaky CIA agenda, and talking about how The Good Shepherd has many flaws but this did not stop the CIA themselves from praising it as ‘probably as good as any film on the Agency’.
Episode 03 – The CIA and The Recruit
Aaron Franz joined in the conversation as we looked at the film The Recruit, which more than any other film we’re covering in this season was moulded by CIA entertainment liaison Chase Brandon. Like so many films, it tells the story of a young person inducted into a secret world with secret rules and codes of thinking and behaviour, and in doing so inducts the audience into that same world. We discussed this dynamic from various angles – black operations, secret societies, occult or mystery school philosophies – before studying Brandon’s appearance in the most fascinating ‘making of’ documentary ever made.
Episode 04 – The CIA and Enemy of the State
Good friend Adam joins us to discuss the 1998 action thriller Enemy of the State, and its unprecedented ‘revelation’ of surveillance technology. We talk about how the film has a rogue’s gallery of technical advisers – including Chase Brandon and Marty Keiser – and how this led to one of the most spectacular depictions of the NSA and the spy state in general. Following from this we analysed the likely purpose in the CIA masking themselves as the NSA in the film, and how this has scuppered the progress of any serious dialogue about mass surveillance.
Episode 05 – The CIA and The Social Network
Thomas Sheridan joins us to talk about the 2010 film The Social Network, which tells the story of the origins of facebook. We discuss the class struggle portrayed in the story, the mechanism by which the film could have been influenced by the CIA, the archetypes in the finely-produced melodrama that plays out, the CIA’s silicon valley network which is conspicuous by its absence from the narrative, and the meaning of the movie’s dark and brooding tone. We also get into some unusual areas, including the mystery of the sub sandwich.
Episode 06 – The CIA and Charlie Wilson’s War
Sibel Edmonds is our final guest as we dissect this shambolic re-telling of the Soviet-Afghan War. Much of this conversation is devoted to what the film leaves out, such as Charlie Wilson being a CIA asset, the origins of Operation Cyclone being older and much more important than one drunk congressman and his ultra-right wing Christian friend and of course the likes of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Osama Bin Laden who are completely absent from the movie. This was a no-holds-barred critique of this quite shameful piece of CIA propaganda, and all the more fun because of that.
Episode 07 – The CIA and Argo
Pearse and Tom round off season 1 looking at the 2012 Oscar winning historical drama Argo, which is based on a real life exfiltration operation during the Iranian revolution. We discuss the CIA’s almost too-obvious involvement in the film, the background of how the story was declassified and turned into a movie including the shadowy figures of producer David Klawans and writer Chris Terrio. We stick the boot into Ben Affleck and his film, not just for its ‘Reel Bad Arabs’ racism but also its outrageous and possibly intentional historical inaccuracy. We analyse the weirdest Oscars ceremony ever, where Argo producers Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov won the Best Picture award, before wrapping up by reflecting back on season 1 of this series and briefly looking forward to season 2.
The whole of season 1 of The CIA and Hollywood can be purchased as a digital download here, and current plans are to record and release season 2 in the autumn/winter of 2015.