Category Archives: The CIA and Hollywood

Porkins in The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

 

As many already know the issue featuring my article in The American Journal of Economics and Sociology was just recently published. The entire issue deals with CIA and Pentagon influence in Hollywood and includes articles by Tom Secker, Aaron Franz, Tarzie, Matthew Alford, and many more. I am extremely proud of not only my piece but of the entire issue and everyone that contributed. A big thank you to all the writers who joined me in this amazing endeavor.

Due to copyright restrictions you will have to buy the issue if you want to read it. Unfortunately I have already given out the limited number of print copies that I had. If you would like a copy (signed even) then please email me and I will see what I can do about getting more issues. You can also email Wiley Customer Service (cs-journals@wiley.com) and inquire about purchasing a single issue.  Below is the abstract from my piece.

The Historical Roots of CIA-Hollywood Propaganda – Pearse Redmond

The ability to use movies that tell persuasive stories is a powerful tool, particularly if it is consciously used to legitimize war, assassination, and illegal activities and to undermine the core principles of democracy. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. military have made use of that tool for almost a century, starting with the War Department’s quiet support for the movie Birth of a Nation in 1915 and continuing for a century, including such recent CIA-supported products as Homeland, The Agency, The Recruit, and many less likely movies and television shows. During World War II, this sort of propaganda was openly distributed, since there was a widespread consensus in support of that war. However, state-sponsored propaganda in the form of Hollywood movies continued throughout the Cold War up to the present. The production of movies that completely distorted the political meaning of George Orwell’s and Graham Greene’s novels were important examples of this practice. CIA involvement was covert, since the target audience was the American public and the ideological perspective being propagated often ran counter to democratic ideals. This article recounts the history of the process by which Americans came to accept the ideas continuously promoted by the government, often without knowing that their favorite movies and television shows had been vetted or even altered by agents of the CIA or the Pentagon. Since these practices violate federal laws, the public at least has a right to know that we are being subjected to this sort of propaganda and how much tax money is spent to produce entertaining forms of disinformation.

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The CIA and Hollywood episode 15 Salt

Rounding off this second season we take a look at SALT, the 2010 action thriller starring Angelina Jolie as a CIA officer accused of being a Russian sleeper agent. We chart the development of the film, from its origins as an attempt to recreate the Bourne franchise, through Amy Pascal and Jolie’s conversations about making a female-led spy thriller. SALT is one of the less well known CIA-assisted productions, but along with technical advice from former CIA officer Melissa Boyle Mahle the producers also consulted with the CIA themselves in a video conference. The producers also employed Kurt Wimmer, one of the screenwriters from The Recruit. There is also a very weird story involving one of the extras in the opening sequence in North Korea.
We analyse the mystery of Evelyn Salt’s underwear and then the conversation hones in on Russia, who in 2010 were not on the news agenda, and how this movie predicted the rise of the ‘new Cold War’ that is commonplace in most current spy films and TV shows. The whole notion of a sleeper agent Russian spy ring was risible at the time but before long this exact story hit the news in a big way. We touch on the transhuman disguise that Jolie employs in the film and how this relates both to Argo and to Mission: Impossible, two other CIA-assisted movies. We round off looking back on season 2 of The CIA and Hollywood and suggest a possibility for doing season 3 in a different way.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 15

Show notes:

SALT (movie)

The Ultimate Action Hero – Salt (Making Of #1)

Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt (Making Of #2)

SALT production notes

Thomas J. Ridge and Melissa Boyle Mahle on Salt

The SALT talks

Pearse with SALT poster

The CIA and Hollywood episode 14 Zero Dark Thirty

Robbie Martin is our final guest for this season as we dissect the 2012 docudrama Zero Dark Thirty. We discussed the difficulty in defining what kind of film this is – somewhere between a spy thriller, a documentary and a dry European art house movie. We get into the well-documented CIA support for the film and ask why this is the only major movie about the Abbottabad raid to get ‘Bin Laden’ and why it wasn’t particularly successful. Was the film meant to serve as a substitute for any real evidence of what happened in Abbottabad in 2011? Did the filmmakers even care whether what they were portraying was true or were they blinded by the excitement of the special access they were granted?

After summarizing the role of senior CIA and DOD intelligence officer Michael Vickers (who is portrayed in Charlie Wilson’s War) we discuss why so many CIA agents are portrayed in movies and TV. The conversation then zeroes in on ‘Maya’ – based on the real life CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, who was critically involved in the 9/11 intelligence breakdown and the post-9/11 torture program. Getting back to the film we talk about the raid sequence itself which is very dry and realistic but we never actually see Bin Laden. We conclude that Zero Dark Thirty is like a rorschach test where you can bring your own expectations and prejudices to your experience of watching the movie. We round off talking about the portrayal of torture in the film and ask whether the controversies around the film were created as a smokescreen to avoid people asking the question: was it really Bin Laden?

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 14

Show Notes:

Zero Dark Thirty

CIA Memo on Rewriting Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty the CIA and DOD files

The ‘Dynamite’ Pentagon Interview Behind ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Bin Laden Burial took place on Top Gun ship

CIA Inspector General’s Report on Engagement with the Entertainment Industry

Who is Richard Blee (podcast)

Alfreda Frances Bikowsky

Alec Station

CIA’s Queen of Torture Married to Former CIA Official Who Urges War Between Sunnis and Shiites

The CIA and Hollywood episode 13 Race to Witch Mountain

James Evan Pilato is our latest guest as we dissect the 2009 Disney UFO adventure Race to Witch Mountain.  We start off looking at Disney as a corporation – its long standing interest in UFOs and extraterrestrials, the connections to government agencies and their recent takeover of the fantasy genre.  We then get into Race to Witch Mountain itself – a strange blend of a kids’ movie, a love letter to the UFO culture and an homage to spy thrillers especially Enemy of the State.  Next, we examine the deliberately hyperreal nature of the film and dwell on the effects of a fantasy movie set in the real world with real people.  A children’s movie about ‘illegal aliens’ being pursued under the Patriot Act is not Hollywood’s typical output.

Then the conversation moves on to the mysterious CIA involvement in Race to Witch Mountain, which the CIA themselves deny but the director Andy Fickman insists took place.  After discussing the CIA Inspector General’s Report on their Engagement with the Entertainment Industry we move on to the question of infiltration of the UFO culture, and the use of UFOlogy to infiltrate alternative cultures more broadly.  We round off looking at the effect of films like this on people’s perceptions and expectations of government secrecy, and we each try to answer the question ‘are you a believer?’.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 13

Show Notes:

Race to Witch Mountain

Silver Screen Saucers (book by Robbie Graham)

Which Mountain? (making of)

ClandesTime 076 – Walt Disney and the FBI

A Look Back … Robert Carey Broughton: From Walt Disney to War Movies

CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-1990

A History of Government Management of UFO Perceptions through Film and Television

“Alien language” presented by CIA & Disney

UFOs and Disney: Behind the Magic Kingdom

Robbie Graham’s blog

Robbie Graham – UFOs, Hyperreality, and the Disclosure Myth – Copenhagen 2014

Mirage Men

The CIA and Hollywood episode 12 American Ultra

Adam from Themes and Memes is our guest to talk about the 2015 action comedy American Ultra.  We start by trying to define this film, which is an intense mixture of cartoonish ultra violence, CIA covert operations, romance, comedy and horror, looking at the dissociating nature of this blend.  The intentions of screenwriter Max Landis and the director Nima Nourizadeh are discussed and we ask whether they were reaching out to the CIA or trying to flatter them by making MKULTRA seem cool to stoners and young people.  We go on to look at the prominence of female and often maternal characters in modern spy fiction, particular in CIA-assisted productions and ask what difference this makes to how these films and TV shows portray the CIA as a whole, not just MKULTRA and similar experiments.

We also examined a bizarre weed-based marketing campaign for the film at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con and ask whether like the Pentagon and NASA, the CIA now sees Comic-Con as a key networking and recruitment opportunity.  The conversation rounds of discussing the director Nima Nourizadeh’s father Ali Reza, who bears all the hallmarks of being a CIA asset (complete with mysterious name changes and working for Voice of America).  The presence of footage of Langley and the prominent use of the CIA logo suggests that at the least the CIA were aware of American Ultra and approved use of these for the film, so we ask whether they were involved in the making of the film and if so, why.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 12

Show Notes:

American Ultra

Activating American Ultra (making of)

American Ultra offering free pot at Comic-Con

Spooky London: how Britain’s spy agencies are using new and unexpected methods to recruit the next generation

Centre for Iranian and Arab Studies – Companies House

Wikileaks cables – IRAN WATCHER CONTACT TARGETED BY IRANIAN REGIME

Iranians unite in grief at service for Shah’s son

The CIA and Hollywood episode 11 The Men Who Stare at Goats

Jay Dyer joins us for this episode where we analyse the 2009 comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, loosely based on Jon Ronson’s book of the same name. It tells the story of a journalist who is inducted into the world of psychic soldiers during the Iraq war. The movie goes on to explain some of the history behind the First Earth Battalion, an experimental Pentagon unit devoted to developing a new generation of super soldier informed by the hippy and New Age movements. We examine what the film leaves out, especially in the form of MKULTRA and similar CIA projects and experiments with similar aims, and ask whether the purpose was not to ask ‘How could love and peace help win wars?’ but to weaponise New Age philosophy and the New Age movement.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is the final movie in the George Clooney/Grant Heslov series before they took the full plunge and made Argo with the help of the CIA. We look at whether Goats – Heslov’s directorial debut – was the final step in their long-term overture to the CIA. The fact that Goats reduces the CIA’s involvement in such projects to a single scene, and was distributed by none other than Overture Films are strong hints towards this. We also map out the evidence and implications of state sponsorship of the entire Goats project, from Ronson’s original book and documentary series through to the Hollywood version. The use of technical advisors who were part of these Pentagon units back in the 70s/80s and who were ‘reactivated’ to help fight the War on Terror implies that at least the DOD, if not the CIA, were in favour of this film. We round off by pondering the plausibility of the remote viewing phenomenon.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 11

Vimeo Version

Show Notes:

The Men Who Stare at Goats (book)

Crazy Rulers of the World (documentary series)

The Men Who Stare at Goats (film)

First Earth Battalion Field Manual

Jim Channon’s website (archived)

Goats Declassified: The real men of the First Earth Battalion

Project Hollywood

Pearse Redmond Patreon

Tom Secker Patreon

The CIA and Hollywood episode 10 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Aaron Franz joins us to discuss the 2002 biopic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which tells the story of game show producer and host Chuck Barris. Barris claims that while becoming a TV star he was recruited by and worked for the CIA as an assassin, killing a total of 33 people. In this episode we analyse this claim, which has been dismissed by the Agency as a ludicrous fantasy. We examine Barris’ true life history, focusing in on his marriage to Lyn Levy – the daughter of one of the founders of CBS – and his incredibly selfish relationship with their daughter Della. None of this appears in the film so taking this into account we consider whether Barris was a CIA assassin, a psychopathic fabricator or an emotionally warped narcissist (or all of these things rolled into one). If Barris truly was a CIA agent then what was his job? Was he an assassin, or did they employ him to ‘slay the audience’ by developing the prototypes for reality TV?

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is also notable for being George Clooney’s directorial debut, and a production that languished in development hell for years before he became involved and began pulling strings to ensure the film got made. We consider whether the movie was one of Clooney’s attempts to gain the attention and approval of the CIA, and whether he too thought that Barris’ TV career was the real mission for the Agency. We examine Clooney’s self-appointed role as Chuck’s ‘defence lawyer’, his obsession with goats and why he employed theatrical visual tricks throughout the production. We round off comparing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to The Recruit, as both films show The Farm (the CIA’s semi-secret agent training facility) and portray the protagonist being inducted and initiated into that covert world.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 10
Vimeo Version

Show Notes:

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (film)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (book)

The Real Chuck Barris

Chuck Barris: Is is True?

Broadcast Pioneers: Leon Levy

William Paley Obituary

Della Barris

Lynne Levy Equestrians

Chuck Barris ‘My Life on the Edge’

The Drexel Interview: Chuck Barris

Support us on Patreon

Pearse Redmond Patreon

Tom Secker Patreon

The CIA and Hollywood episode 9 Good Night and Good Luck

We welcome Ed Opperman to the series and discuss the 2005 docudrama Good Night, and Good Luck which retells the story of the 1954 confrontation between senator Joe McCarthy and television journalist Ed Murrow of CBS. McCarthy was pursuing Communists within the State Department and other government agencies and innocent people were getting caught in the crossfire, creating a climate of suspicion, mistrust and hostility. Murrow used his prime time series See It Now to attack McCarthy and the culture and mentality of McCarthyism, showing the senator to be a hypocrite who persecuted his targets.

This is the story that is told in Good Night, and Good Luck, a film born out of the creative relationship between George Clooney and Grant Heslov. In this episode we take a sideways look at the historical events and ask why Clooney and Heslov chose to lionise not just Murrow but the whole See it Now/CBS crew. We try to persuade Ed of an alternative interpretation of events, with Murrow not quite being the heroic counter-establishment figure he is in the film and CBS being a rotten media organisation with deep ties to the CIA. We then explore how almost everyone involved in Good Night, and Good Luck had either already made a film with CIA assistance, or went on to do so. We round off talking about Clooney’s bizarre Las Vegas connection, E Michael Burke, George Steinbrenner and (inevitably) Donald Trump.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 9

Vimeo Version

Show Notes:

Good Night, and Good Luck

Making of Featurette

Edward R. Murrow: “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy”

Good Night, and Good Luck and Bad History (part 1)

Good Night, and Good Luck and Bad History (part 2)

The CIA and the Media (Carl Bernstein)

ClandesTime 034 – The Hollywood Ten

When the CIA used CBS to stop a TV Show from Being Made

E Michael Burke

The CIA and Hollywood episode 8 The Quiet American

In this first episode of the new season Pearse and I discuss the 1958 spy drama The Quiet American, adapted from the novel by Graham Greene.  We focus in on the role of Air Force and CIA officer Ed Lansdale’s relationship with the film-maker Joseph Mankiewicz, and how the CIA were involved in assisting Mankiewicz the first major American movie to be filmed in Vietnam.  Mankiewicz met Lansdale in Vietnam while doing research for the movie and, apparently unaware that Lansdale is one of the inspirations for the Pyle character in the original book, befriended him.  Lansdale later reviewed the script and wrote to Mankiewicz encouraging the changes he had made to the storyline and characters.

Another angle is Graham Greene’s transition from an MI6 agent in World War 2 to an anti-establishment author who was spied by the FBI for supposed Communist affiliations.  We look at how his original novel of The Quiet American was an excellent critique of post-WW2 American imperialism, secret warfare and so-called ‘humanitarian interventions’, which was butchered in the Hollywood version.  In particular the character of Pyle is turned from a bookish, virginal ‘war nerd’ into the charming all-American version played by real-life war hero Audie Murphy.  Likewise, while the original book has Fowler’s worst suspicions about Pyle being proven right (Pyle is sponsoring terrorism), the film changes this so Fowler is fooled by the Communists into betraying Pyle.

We round off this episode by briefly discussing the far superior (and not state-sponsored) 2002 film version directed by Philip Noyce and starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser.  This version is not only better written, acted and directed but is also, crucially, a faithful adaptation of the original book.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep 8

Vimeo Version

 

Show Notes:

The Quiet American (book)

The Quiet American (1958 film)

The Quiet American (2002 film)

Edward Lansdale’s Cold War by Jonathan Nashel

Lansdale’s letter to Mankiewicz

Edward Lansdale

Operation Northwoods document collection

Graham Greene’s FBI File

The Dangerous Edge – Graham Greene documentary

Michael Redgrave MI5 file

The CIA and Hollywood Season 2 Link Chart

The-CIA-and-Hollywood-linkchart-2

 

From SpyCulture:

We will begin releasing season 2 of The CIA and Hollywood this weekend, and to give you a taste of what’s to come we have produced a linkchart combining data and connections from both season 1 and the forthcoming season 2.  New additions include The Rock, Angelina Jolie and former Sony executive Amy Pascal, along with self-confessed (though officially denied) CIA agent Chuck Barris.  Much of this season’s material links up with the people and organisations we discussed in season one, including the two production companies Participant Media and Relativity Media.

As with the previous linkchart, embedded in the pdf are links to various resources – interviews, documents, making of featurettes and other sources of information for those who want to know more about the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood, and of course where Pearse and I get the information we use.  The 8 films we examine in this second season are: The Quiet American (1958), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Men who Stare at Goats (2009), American Ultra (2015), Race to Witch Mountain (2009), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Salt (2010).

The linkchart is available as a high-resolution PNG file or as an even higher-resolution PDF, which has the source links embedded within it.

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