Skip to main content

New evidence for the surprisingly significant propaganda role of the CIA and the DOD in the screen entertainment industry

This article reassesses the relationships of the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense with the American entertainment industry. Both governmental institutions present their relationships as modest in scale, benign in nature, passive, and concerned with historical and technical accuracy rather than politics. The limited extant commentary reflects this reassuring assessment. However, we build on a patchy reassessment begun at the turn of the 21st century, using a significant new set of documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. We identify three key facets of the state-entertainment relationship that are under-emphasized or absent from the existing commentary and historical record: 1. The withholding of available data from the public; 2. The scale of the work; and 3. The level of politicization. As such, the article emphasizes a need to pay closer attention to the deliberate propaganda role played by state agencies in promoting the US national security state through entertainment media in western societies.

Part 2 - The Withholding of Available Data from the Public

The largest library archive about the DOD’s influence on entertainment is held at Georgetown University and curated by Lawrence Suid. The authors and several colleagues of different ages, genders, and levels of academic experience requested access to these files. Suid rejected each request. In his clearest refusal to share material, Suid explained that, ‘I trust you will understand the difficulty I would have in opening my files while I am still using them’,1 though he has not generated any new analysis since 2005.

In 2004, Robb highlighted some egregious examples of the DOD exerting political influence over Hollywood scripts. Despite his extensive discussion of the archived documentation, Suid’s books have made no direct reference to the politically-motivated changes on numerous films, including: Clear and Present Danger (e.g. removal of racist language by the President); Tomorrow Never Dies (e.g. removal of a joke about the US losing the Vietnam War); Contact (e.g. changing a scene that makes the military appear paranoid); Thirteen Days (e.g. an attempt to convince the producers that the Joint Chiefs had behaved responsibly during the Cuban Missile Crisis); Windtalkers (e.g. a scene depicting a historically accurate Marine war crime was removed) – as discussed below – as well as Tears of the Sun (the military prevented the depiction of ‘nasty conspiracies’); The Green Berets (e.g. references to the illegal US bombing of Laos were removed); Rules of Engagement (e.g. the lead character is ‘toned down’); Black Hawk Down (e.g. a scene depicting the military machine gunning wild boar is removed); and Goldeneye (the nationality of a duped American Admiral is changed), as discussed in Alford and Secker’s 2017 book. Although Suid gives good coverage of film releases that have been denied cooperation, he chooses not to comment whatsoever on productions that were terminated due to the DOD’s refusal to cooperate, including Countermeasures, Top Gun II, and Fields of Fire.

Direct approaches to the DOD’s ELO have also proven to be of dubious utility. Strub claimed ‘I stopped keeping paper records long ago. I don’t maintain electronic ones, either’ and that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request could only disclose, at best, a ‘brief entry in an incomplete data base’. He suggested we contact Suid, which only serves to highlight how the presence of Suid has helped insulate the DOD from the FOIA (Strub, 2014).

Actually, although the ‘incomplete data base’ is mostly lacking information about the degree of political influence and script changes brought to bear by the DOD, it does contain some relevant new data and it helped clarify the scale of DOD support to entertainment products. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of the new data concerns what the military provided to the filmmakers in terms of access to people, locations and vehicles and does not record what the Pentagon asked for in return. Similarly, our request to the US Navy for copies of script notes on recently-supported productions resulted, after well over a year’s delay, in a response saying that they do not keep copies of script notes (2017). We appealed and provided them with a copy of their own notes on Lone Survivor, released to another requester, but no further information has so far been forthcoming.

The available CIA records regarding their involvement in and influence on entertainment products are even more scant. While hundreds of pages of emails and memos regarding Zero Dark Thirty were released in response to a FOIA lawsuit, the equivalent records regarding other CIA-supported productions have never been released. Secker and others have requested files on Argo and Top Chef – which unlike Zero Dark Thirty were even granted permission to film at CIA headquarters – but the CIA’s responses say they cannot find even a single document.

The same problem applies to the Chase Brandon era (1996–2006) in the CIA’s liaison office. According to his successor, Paul Barry, when Brandon left the Agency in late 2006 he took all his papers with him, and so ‘nothing remains from the past’ (quoted in Jenkins, 2009). Tricia Jenkins’ work suggests two alternative reactions to this hole in the CIA’s records: (1) that it does not make much difference because, as producer Michael Beckner put it, ‘everything he did with the CIA was done on a handshake and a phone call’ (Jenkins, 2016: 69) and so Brandon’s paper-trail was probably minimal anyway; and (2) that it might matter enormously because extensive memos show that Chase Brandon was responsible for essentially ghost-writing the film The Recruit and so, presumably, he used this written method for a considerable body of material. The 2016 edition of Jenkins’ book The CIA in Hollywood cites documents from an unspecified court case proving how:

[Brandon’s] role far exceeded the one that even an aggressive studio executive or producer would play in the development of the film … one can’t help but wonder why [writer Roger] Towne and [producer Jeff] Apple allowed Brandon to have so much creative control over the original script unless it was always understood to be a CIA written film disguised as an independent production. (p. 87)

Jenkins concludes that ‘it is clear that Brandon was far more involved in some films’ actual development than anyone outside of the industry previously imagined’ (p. 87).

Overall, then, institutional secrecy makes it impossible to assess the true scale and nature of the political influence wielded on Hollywood by these two institutions, especially the CIA. We only know that in some well-documented instances it is fundamental to the politics of these entertainment products (we discuss some examples below). The CIA seems to have taken its popular refrains like ‘the secret of our success is the secret of our success’ and applied them to its work on entertainment productions. In the wake of Robb’s criticism, the DOD further limited public access to source materials that reveal script changes by replacing the twentieth century style of paper trail with more circumspect and anodyne diary-style activities reports. This lack of transparency could presumably be quickly reversed, were it not for a mindset that does not want the public to know.

Source, links, references:


[1] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Read also:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Former Pentagon official confirms: Trump prepares for war with Iran

globinfo freexchange
Right after Trump's sudden announcement that he will withdraw the US forces from Syria, we had some mixed reactions. Some liberals reacted angrily, but most of the reactions from the liberal machine were rather moderate, or at least not as intensive as someone would normally expect.
On the other hand, Trump's supporters and all those who had enough of the pro-war neoliberal establishment, felt a kind of vindication, as it appeared that Trump would eventually keep its promise for an 'anti-interventionist' policy.
But the blog wrote immediately a 'not so fast' article to explain that most of the Americans and all those who are tired of the US endless wars, should not rush to celebrate. We estimated that Trump's move is probably a sign that he is going to re-organize troops and go after the big target called Iran.
Indeed, shortly after the move, Trump, suddenly again, announced that he will also pullout troops from Afghanistan.
And then, about…

Panicked neoliberal tools attempt to trigger a war of generations against AOC's progressive counterattack

globinfo freexchange
We were slightly surprised to see such an article title in one of the primary info tools of the global neoliberal regime and financial capital. But the subtitle immediately clarified everything.
When we read the title “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Revenge of the Millennials” of the article in Bloomberg, we thought that we might be in front of a small miracle. We thought that the time has come for some people inside the core of the establishment apparatus to admit that the younger generations have lost dramatically from this brutal system. And so, the time has come to overthrow it, take their 'revenge'.
But no, it was too good to be true.
The subtitle immediately revealed the trick: “The Democrats’ major economic initiatives tend to favor the young at the expense of the old.”
Then, inside the article we read: “Almost every major new economic initiative proposed by Democrats — the Green New Deal, Medicare for all, debt-free college — has a common feature: Un…

The desperate efforts of the Western neoliberal establishment to build a new propaganda machine

globinfo freexchange
The UK government and other Western governments and the US in recent years have had increasing difficulties persuading enough of their populations as to the legitimacy of the foreign policies that they have been pursuing.
And at the same time, Western countries have been going through a period of political crisis and economic crisis.
Piers Robinson, Chair in Politics, Society and Political Journalism at the University of Sheffield, further explains:
I think a lot of this drive is as much about trying to shore up shaky official narratives and trying to shore up political systems in a situation of political crisis, as it is actually about countering Russian propaganda.
I would suspect that that's a little bit of an excuse here to really what's going on of problems much closer to home.
This is not just to do to UK, this is Europe-wide. And there are also indications from the documents that they are intending to start to have some kind of impact within the United…

How neoliberalism manufactured consent to secure its unlimited power

From David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism
Part 10 – How Margaret Thatcher systematically destroyed the British industry along with the trade unions
While there were many elements out of which consent for a neoliberal turn could be constructed, the Thatcher phenomenon would surely not have arisen, let alone succeeded, if it had not been for the serious crisis of capital accumulation during the 1970s. Stagflation was hurting everyone. In 1975 inflation surged to 26 per cent and unemployment topped one million. The nationalized industries were draining resources from the Treasury.
This set up a confrontation between the state and the unions. In 1972, and then again in 1974, the British miners (a nationalized industry) went on strike for the first time since 1926.
The miners had always been in the forefront of British labour struggles. Their wages were not keeping pace with accelerating inflation, and the public sympathized. The Conservative government, in the midst of power …

Confirmed: Germany builds its own imperialist empire

globinfo freexchange
Almost two years ago we identified Germany's efforts to develop its military in the context of its ambition to build its own sphere of influence.
As we wrote, Brexit will give the chance to Germany to increase influence due to the change of power balance, especially now that France appears weak - crawling behind Berlin's austerity, sado-monetarism and neoliberal destruction. These conditions (created in the Greek experiment), are necessary to Germany in order to retain a model in favor of its surpluses. These could become the solid ground upon which Germany could build a strong, modern military machine.
Therefore, Merkel knows that the economic domination is not adequate for a country to become a major power. It is also important to have a strong military presence in its “sphere of influence”, or, its financial/debt colonies, if you prefer. The German military presence in Lithuania is a first step towards this direction as the Baltic countries have already be…

WikiLeaks disturbing and hopeful findings on Tulsi Gabbard's path to progressiveness

The definite detachment from the Clintonian machine
globinfo freexchange
Searching the Podesta emails inside WikiLeaks we found a rather disturbing fact about Tulsi Gabbard who recently announced that she will run for the 2020 US presidency. Iraq War Veteran, Jon Soltz, chairman at VoteVets at the time, sent an email on Aug. 2012 to Hillary Clinton top lobbyist, John Podesta, in order to thank him for his contribution to Gabbard's campaign in Hawaii.
Soltz wrote (emphasis added):
This morning, we are one step closer to making history. In Hawaii, VoteVets PAC-endorsed Iraq veteran Tulsi Gabbard has won her primary, in a stunning come-from-behind victory. If she wins in November, she along with Tammy Duckworth (who we also feel very good about), would be the first female combat veteran ever elected to Congress in United States history! This is happening because of you. Your tens of thousands of dollars in donations for Tulsi's campaign, through VoteVets PAC, allowed her to run a fir…

The difference between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and what the US elections won't allow you to decide

globinfo freexchange
A country that has been completely taken over by the banking mafia and the corporate power will never allow people to decide on the most important issue: the abolition of the dominant system that works against them.
Professor Richard Wolff explains:
Because of Bernie Sanders, particularly, we now have the word Socialism floating around, but typically it's about, more or less, really among Democrats. Like Mr. Sanders is ambiguously an independent but he's also a Democrat.
So, the ‘Socialists’ seemed to be the Democrats who want to do more for people. Social welfare, social supports, state supports, versus those who don't want to do quite so much - the centrist Democrats, like Clinton and Obama.
But the real question is a program of change. Socialism is a change of system it goes away from capitalism to do something else. It would be interesting if we could have an election ‘do we want that?’, ‘would we like a different system?’.
There are countries doing t…

The IMF is dismantling Argentina all over again

Part 1
In September, Argentine president Mauricio Macri accepted the 2018 Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award. In attendance were many of world’s neoliberal power players and policy makers, among them International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
Facing the crowd, Macri gleefully admitted that “with Christine, I have to confess we started a great relationship some months ago,” referring to a series of loan agreements with the IMF amounting to $57.1 billion dollars. “I expect that this is going to work very well, and we will end up with the whole country crushing on Christine,” he continued.
This dynamic of chasing an improved image with the world’s big banks and the dominant economies in the West is emblematic of Macri’s priority to secure a relationship with the IMF and improve the country’s image with global financial institutions. But it comes at a devastating cost for the majority of the population who will suffer from neoliberal policy prescriptions of…

How neoliberalism manufactured consent to secure its unlimited power

From David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism
Part 11 – The Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal legacy: a bizarre form of a sinister political doctrine from which it would be difficult one to escape
But Thatcher had to fight the battle on other fronts. A noble rearguard action against neoliberal policies was mounted in many a municipality –– Sheffield, the Greater London Council (which Thatcher had to abolish in order to achieve her broader goals in the 1980s), and Liverpool (where half the local councillors had to be gaoled) formed active centres of resistance in which the ideals of a new municipal socialism (incorporating many of the new social movements in the London case) were both pursued and acted upon until they were finally crushed in the mid-1980s.
She began by savagely cutting back central government funding to the municipalities, but several of them responded simply by raising property taxes, forcing her to legislate against their right to do so. Denigrating the progressive…

Banishing Truth

by Chris Hedges
The investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, in his memoir “Reporter,” describes a moment when as a young reporter he overheard a Chicago cop admit to murdering an African-American man. The murdered man had been falsely described by police as a robbery suspect who had been shot while trying to avoid arrest. Hersh frantically called his editor to ask what to do.
The editor urged me to do nothing,” he writes. “It would be my word versus that of all the cops involved, and all would accuse me of lying. The message was clear: I did not have a story. But of course I did.” He describes himself as “full of despair at my weakness and the weakness of a profession that dealt so easily with compromise and self-censorship.
Hersh, the greatest investigative reporter of his generation, uncovered the U.S. military’s chemical weapons program, which used thousands of soldiers and volunteers, including pacifists from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as unwitting human guinea pigs to measure…