Burn After Reading [2008)

This film just goes to show that intelligence work might best be described in the terms of humor.

A very dark humor.

Half of U.S. intelligence agencies fall under the purview of the Department of Defense:

-Twenty-Fifth Air Force (25 AF) [Air Force intelligence]

-Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) [Army intelligence]

-Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

-Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)

-Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

and

-National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service (CSS)

Then there are those executive departments which oversee two intel services apiece:

-Department of Homeland Security (Coast Guard Intelligence [CGI] and Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A])

and

-Department of Justice (Intelligence Branch [IB] of the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI] and Office of National Security Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA])

In addition to these 12 agencies, there are four “peacocks”:

-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA [an independent entity])

-Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI [of the Department of Energy])

-Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR [of the Department of State])

and finally George Clooney’s armory in Burn After Reading:

-Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) [of the Department of Treasury]).

But we must remember that the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) was, until 2003, also part of the Department of Treasury.  Clooney’s character Harry Pfarrar speaks of his previous work protecting diplomats as a “PP”.  Personal protection?  Personnel protection?

Nevertheless, we learn something of which even the other D.C. “natives” in our film seem unaware:  that certain Treasury Department employees carry guns.

This, of course, ends up being a big detail in Burn After Reading.

And so the main thing is to understand the CIA analyst played adeptly here by John Malkovich.

The Balkans Desk.

-Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Suitland, Maryland

-Suitland, Maryland?  Or Quantico, Virginia?

-Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face, Virginia (oh baby that’s 9/11!)

-and Fort Meade, Maryland

[continuing]

-Anacostia? [D.C.]

-DHS Nebraska Avenue Complex, Washington, D.C.

-J. Edgar Hoover Building [D.C.]

-Arlington County, Virginia? [DEA]

-Langley, Virginia

-James V. Forrestal Building (D.C.) [DoE]

-Foggy Bottom (Harry S. Truman Building) [D.C.]

and

-1500 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue (USA)

All of this is to say that Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is “a damned good analyst”.

But forget the “PP”.

Georege Clooney is a U.S. Marshal.  And thus under the Department of Justice umbrella.

Right?

All of this makes me sympathize with the witless Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt).

But the funniest part is the repartee between David Rasche and J.K. Simmons over at Langley.

The implication is that a couple of athletic trainers and an alcoholic former analyst (plus a U.S. Marshal) have spun a web of inexplicable disaster even more boneheaded than the Bay of Pigs invasion.

And so it is priceless to hear these two gentlemen speak in tones of which Leo G. Carroll would no doubt have approved.

“We do nothing.”

When in doubt.

Ah, but Zugzwang?

Nein.

Nichts.

Nothing is scarier than a know-nothing.

Completely transparent.

Like water.

The most terrifying mask.

Princeton pulls the trigger in full-on mental illness.

And with a healthy buzz.

Maybe a bathrobe.

Can’t recall.

But felt very Harry Nilsson (if not Brian Wilson) sartorially speaking.

But the best thing is the CIA in the plastic surgery/philanthropy business.

Slushing the funds.  A little churn.

If only.

The absurdity of it all (for the CIA) most accurately can be explained by the Situationism of Guy Debord.

Like snowflakes.  Overlaid onto life views courtesy NRO.

Photo interpretation.

NGA.  Or even an NGO.

Who knows?

Clap on, clap off, the Clapper.  X X

 

-PD

 

Spies Like Us [1985)

Hulu lost me.

Hello Netflix.

Hulu is like an inept intelligence agency.

They had the goods.

The Criterion Collection.

But as that oeuvre was surreptitiously phased out, Hulu was unable to offer any value whatsoever to the thinking person.

And so perhaps it is ironic that my Netflix relationship (no chilling here) starts with a spy spoof of sorts, but make no mistake (as the woeful Barack Obama is wont to say):  this is a very intelligent film.

It was a childhood favorite of mine.

Perhaps I was a strange child.

[no doubt]

But we all want to be James Bond to a certain extent, right?

Details disappear.

Even Putin had his cinema heroes.

Consider the film Щит и меч from 1968.

iMDB seems to fill in where Wikipedia fails.

Because these details tell so much.

To know one’s opponent.

But Vladimir Putin is not our opponent.

As long as our election stands.

Perhaps the answer is Stanislav Lyubshin.

Or was it Oleg Yankovsky?

The real answer is comedy.

Even spies need a laugh.

Spies are humans too.

Spy lives matter.

And so we get the provenance of the Pentagon basement meme.

A favorite of mine.

And this film.

Integral to who I am.

I had a cousin who worked in the Pentagon.

I don’t think she worked in the basement 🙂

But God rest her soul.

She is no longer with us.

And she was the most kind lady perhaps I ever knew.

She served her country.

I believe she did something in the health care field for veterans.

But yes…I identify extensively with Austin Millbarge.

In my own way.

Dan Aykroyd is stellar here as Mr. Millbarge.

And then there’s Emmett Fitz-Hume.

Chevy Chase is at his best in this film as Mr. Fitz-Hume.

Frank Oz is classic in his role as a test monitor.

Yes, Yoda and Miss Piggy were the same person.

How’s that for a mind fuck?

For young know-nothings like myself, this was a likely first exposure to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

And it speaks volumes that the DIA “recently” fielded its own band of covert operatives (in direct competition with the CIA).

There is, it seems, a palpable mistrust between the CIA and the U.S. military.

Different cultures.  Actually, a class difference.

[Not to get all Marx here…]

But it’s real.

I can’t define the parameters other than those intuitive, nebulous sentiments just expressed.

It is (very) interesting to note that Dan Aykroyd’s wife Donna Dixon, who stars in this film, was born in Alexandria, Virginia…

Hmmm…

NoVA.

We get Pamir Mountains.

We get Tajikistan.

But before that, we get Pakistan…and Budweiser…and Old El Paso tortilla chips.

And the intel cutout Ace Tomato Co.

And while we’re on the subject of failed businesses (Hulu), we should note that we definitely shan’t be accepting Indra Nooyi’s invitation (“Why don’t you gentlemen have a Pepsi?”) any time soon.

No…we’d much prefer to look at B.B. King’s Jheri curl blowing in the Nevada breeze…or watch Bob Hope “play through” on the Road to Bali.

But let us get back to that old enigmatic chestnut of our youth:  the road to Dushanbe.

“It’s…’Soul Finger’…by…The Bar-Kays.”

“They must be having trouble getting gigs.”

God damn…best line ever!

“Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Doctor.  Aaaaand Doctor.  Did we miss anyone?”

So many lines in this film which hit just the right mark.

Rarely do I write about screenwriters (it’s the auteur theorist in me), but Dan Aykroyd and his cowriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo (!) Mandel deserve major credit for the quality of Spies Like Us.

And yet, the direction of John Landis is fabulous as well!

Landis is no slouch.

I’ve previously written about the timelessness of Trading Places.

And I am sticking with that assessment.

But let’s take a break here…

Is there anything more lovely than seeing Vanessa Angel emerge from that tent?

Well, at least we get the cultural edification of some Lithuanian dancing to a boombox blasting Stax/Volt goodness around a Stolichnaya campfire 🙂

Back to the essential stand-down aspect of the false flag/stand down.

And for this we will always be indebted to Dr. Steve Pieczenik (and to a far lesser extent Roberta Wohlstetter).

We again refer to the FBI’s 1989 raid of Rocky Flats and the heavily-armed DoE agents guarding that facility.

Perhaps some U.S. Army Rangers are in Michael Chertoff’s not-too-distant future (to name but one grand conspirator).

“Ohh…I’m sorry Paul Wolfowitz!  The correct answer is ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’!!!”

 

-PD

 

 

Conspiracy Theory [1997)

Great courage only manifests itself under conditions of great fear.

And Dr. Steve Pieczenik was right when he wrote recently that the conspiracy theorists have won.

And so it is worth revisiting where we have been.

Worth spicing up the espionage tank with a genuine slice of spookery.

No spoofs here.

Citizen detective reborn.

The Justice Department would do well to revisit this film.

Laughable Loretta Lynch.

And her feckless predecessor Eric Holder.

A travesty of justice.  A mockery.

These two buffoons.

Enter Mel Gibson as the outcast.

Newspaper clippings.

A wizard with a highlighter.

Making copious connections.  Connecting dots with more efficiency and efficacy than Saul Berenson’s wildest pragmatic dreams.

Because of inspiration.  That spark.  Banzai!  Geronimo!!!

She has a dog in the fight.

America.

Back when the Twin Towers were still standing.

A horrible gift.  To be able to see through the news.

To be able to “translate” it at a high level of accuracy.

Patrick Stewart is our Sidney Gottlieb.

And maybe the details are Hollywooded, but they are basically true.

McGill University.  Perhaps he would have made a better Ewen Cameron.

A little Hannibal Lecter escape.

Man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

The moment I first believed.

Amazing grace.

William Colby.  DCI.  Talking about the CIA’s heart attack gun.

The Church Committee.  1975.

But not all psychiatrists are bad.

Indeed, the most dangerous thing is when they change sides.

Or rather, when their “community” becomes so corrupt that the good guys become a de facto vestige of the original principles…operating outside of the official apparatus.

These would be the patriots like Dr. Pieczenik.

The brave man who called bullshit on the bin Laden “assassination”.

Described by Antoine Marfan in 1896.

You can’t kill a dead man.

But damage control is always as attractive as it is elusive.

And so slimed.  Tagged.  Made.

Conspiracy Theory is not a masterpiece, but it’s an essential film.

Because it comes back to love.  Comes back to the real “why”.

We don’t need Simon Sinek or the RAND Corporation to tell us this.

We just need Mozart.  And Alex Jones.

And we might look in vain for the man behind the curtain.

Because each man (or woman) leads to another man (or woman).

When you meet shameless liars, then you have found the stink.

And if you follow the stench, you get closer to the source of repugnance.

Moments of tenuous trust.

Knowing you’re dealing with actors.

Several layers of reality.

Mine.  Yours.

But you’ve never seen her run!

Julia Roberts.

In a role of which to be proud.

Pretty Woman doesn’t matter.

Make a good film.  Make a statement.  Leave something timeless.

What is this counterintelligence organization?

And where was it when Snowden took a vacation?

We get a black site.

Remember when the FBI had to overcome armed DoE agents at Rocky Flats?

Just like the end of Spies Like Us.

Humor and dead-on detail.

Maybe you only live twice…

But you can do it silently for love.

Love of country.

Love of people.

Devotion to principles worth upholding.

A dirty business.

With some golden hearts here and there.

Well-done, Richard Donner.

 

-PD