Citizenfour [2014)

Four days till the US election.

OK, three.

But we must take a look at things as they seem.

And analyze what they might be.

I have always written about Edward Snowden glowingly.

But this film is an enigma.

If you know the history of film, you realize that certain filmmakers (particularly Robert Flaherty) presented staged events as if they were documentaries.

This is known as docufiction.

And if you have followed my take on the two US Presidential candidates (Johnson and Stein can suck it…though Stein has true credibility), you’ll know that my assessment of Trump and Clinton has been mainly through the lens of film.

What we (I) look for is credibility.

Having watched all three Presidential debates (in addition to extensive supplemental research), it has been a no-brainer to conclude that Hillary Clinton has ZERO credibility while Donald Trump has immense credibility.

The differentiation could not be more mark-ed.

[Docu-fiction]

But what about Edward Snowden?

Let me start off by saying that Mr. Snowden does not come off as a wholly believable whistleblower in this film.

Perhaps Laura Poitras’ inexperience as a filmmaker is to blame.

Perhaps it is indeed because Edward Snowden is no actor.

But Mr. Snowden is completely inscrutable and opaque in this documentary.

HOWEVER…

there is something about his ostensible North Carolina drawl which rings true.

And so there are two major possibilities…

  1. Edward Snowden is an extremely brave individual who succeeded in “defecting to the side of the public” (to paraphrase)
  2. Edward Snowden is a superspy

I had read of Snowden.  In studying what he had leaked, his credibility seemed beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Such a damaging agent could not possibly have been a Trojan horse operation (so I thought).

Indeed, the most believable part of this film is the last 10 minutes or so.

Sadly, my “copy” of the movie switched to a German overdub for this final segment.

Which is to say, I was more focused on images in the finale.

Every once in a while I was able to make out the beginning of a phrase from William Binney or Glenn Greenwald.

At all other times during this last portion, the German superimposed upon the English made the latter an almost palimpsest.

My German is that bad.

Entschuldigung.

But here are my reservations concerning hypothesis #1 (from above).

A).  Glenn Greenwald’s earliest interview after the leak was clearly shot with the skyline of Hong Kong in the background.  It is somewhat inconceivable that the NSA in conjunction with the CIA (and possibly the FBI or DIA) did not immediately follow Greenwald’s every move from that point forward (courtesy of operatives under the Hong Kong station chief of the CIA).

B).  Glenn Greenwald is a little too smooth to be believable (the same going for Snowden).  Greenwald’s sheer fluency in Portuguese (a bizarre choice for a second language) seems particularly suspect.  The credulous me wants to believe that Greenwald is simply brilliant.  The incredulous me sees Greenwald as just as much a CIA operative as Snowden.

Indeed, hypothesis #2 would be that Edward Snowden is in fact a CIA operative.  His complete calm at The Mira hotel in Hong Kong does not harmonize with a computer geek who just lifted the largest cache of the most top-secret files in world history.  Instead, his mannerisms almost all point to someone who has been hardened and trained at Camp Peary rather than someone who grew up so conveniently close to NSA headquarters.

Snowden is admittedly a former employee of the CIA.

But what could the purpose of such a Trojan horse exercise possibly be?

One strong possibility comes to mind.

As we learn in Dr. Strangelove, there’s no purpose in having a “doomsday machine” if the enemy doesn’t know about it.

In fact, we don’t even need cinema to illustrate this.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstrations as much as they were mass-murder war crimes.

Weapons are “tested” often as much for the power of display as for the exercise of weapon efficacy.

But the world has always been a weird place.

And it is indeed possible that Edward Snowden is an idealistic, independent party in this affair.

The esteemed Dr. Steve Pieczenik (of whom I have spoken much recently) has lately called Snowden “no hero”.

I’m not exactly sure what he means by that.

Possibly Pieczenik knows the Snowden affair to positively be an intel operation.

Possibly Dr. Pieczenik (whom I respect deeply) merely sees Snowden as of no great bravery when compared to the men and women (both military and intelligence employees) who risk their lives on battlefields across the world…by direct order through the US chain of command.

But Dr. Pieczenik has also pointed out that some orders must be disobeyed.

That is part of the responsibility of defending the Constitution “against all enemies foreign and domestic”.

So we have a very interesting case here.

And it directly parallels our current election choices.

What SEEMS to be?

What is patriotism?

At what point must standard operating procedures be put aside?

What constitutes peaceful protest?

Who among us has the duty and privilege to spearhead a countercoup?

I’ve often thought to myself that I would be a horrible NSA employee because I would have a framed picture of Snowden on my desk.

Suffice it to say, I’m sure that is strictly NOT ALLOWED.

But this film makes me doubt the Snowden story.

As a further instructive detail, why does Snowden (in this film) feel so confident in his ability to withstand torture (!) as a means of coercing from him his password(s)?

Again, that does not sound like a standard ability of an “infrastructure analyst”.

Snowden does not admit in this film to ever having been a field operative.

Indeed, it almost feels like Louisiana Story or Tabu:  A Story of the South Seas when Snowden drapes a red article of cloth over his head and torso to ostensibly prevent Greenwald and Poitras from visually seeing his keystrokes.

It is overly dramatic.

These are thoughts.

No doubt, someone knows much more than me about the truth in this strange tale.

And so the film is, in turns, shockingly brilliant and daftly mediocre.

In a strange way, it is just as suspect as James Bamford’s books on the NSA (which I have long suspected were really NSA propaganda pieces).

One of the keys to propaganda and social engineering is gaining the trust of your targets.

In a large-scale psychological operation, the entire world (more or less) is the target.

Back to cinema, we need look no further than Eva Marie Saint “shooting” Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Yes, Body of Secrets (Bamford) was damaging to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US military in general (the revelation of Operation Northwoods) while also exposing Israel as a craven “ally” (the USS Liberty “incident”).

But if we are not careful, we are taken in by these juicy bits of “truth” (in all likelihood, very much true) on our way to accepting the whole book as an accurate exposé.

And this is what makes the world of intelligence so tricky.

Like a chess game in which you are blindsided by a brilliant move.

It takes years (perhaps decades) or an innate brilliance (perhaps both) to discern the organic from the synthetic in the shifting sands of this relativistic world of espionage.

I can only guess and gut.

 

-PD

The 39 Steps [1935)

Oh, to be a spy.  At once the dream of the adventurous and the curse of the actualized.  Why?  Why does Robert Donat let Annabella Smith come home with him from the music hall???  Perhaps it is her allure…  Her strange foreign accent.  Once you take the first step, the case collapses to become a chute…a slide.

Perhaps Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) was simply curious.  We know how the cat ended behaving thusly…

Perhaps Hannay was horny?  It was, after all, 1935…things were lightening up a bit.  No Tinder, but still…one might luck out at the music hall.

Well, Hannay has the misfortune of true cloak and dagger.  Annabella Smith…Hannay asks if she’s ever heard of persecution mania?  Yes, a good question until she comes stumbling from the kitchen with a knife in her back.

And so Hannay sees her fears materialize before his very eyes.  Sure, she could have stabbed herself in the back, but it’s not bloody likely!  And what’s this?

Her last words…cryptic…and a map of Scotland clutched in her hand.

Hanney has become a believer.  It is that moment when hypothetical (suppose she’s right?) becomes, to a certain extent, proven.

No time to split hairs quibbling…she makes it clear with her last breath:  they killed me and you’re next.

Why trust?  Perhaps the spy becomes tired.  She is, after all, a mercenary in a foreign country.  Yes, she is protecting the Kingdom, but for a price…  Her homeland is elsewhere.

And so an act of transference occurs.  Robert Donat now bears the burden of a secret…a hint of a secret…a trail.

He has a couple of choices.  The decision he makes ends up saving his life, yet it is completely counterintuitive.

He decides to get the hell out of there.  Annabella Smith is dead on the bed.  Hanney makes a deal with the milkman (1935) and creeps off towards the train station.

To Scotland.

Things begin to go very hard for Mr. Hanney.  He is pursued relentlessly.  A daring escape from a train stopped on a bridge brings him eventually to the Scottish moors and the village circled on Annabella’s map.

On the way he must overnight with a farm couple…  The man of the house is an overbearing null…the woman, an angel trapped in an unhappy provincial cage.

This is really the beginning of the James Bond idea.  In 1935, they shared but a kiss.

Now, if you have made it this far you will be spared further spoilers…because that is not the purpose of my site.  This isn’t Cliff’s Notes.

We must talk of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.  Perhaps you have noticed the news element of my homepage?  It is really not fair to criticize our CIA…it is too easy.  There can be no doubt as to the difficulty of their work.

As a citizen of the USA I have dreamed of being a secret agent…just as many people do.  It would be a treasonous dream for me to wish employment by the MI6.  I am not British.  So my thoughts have turned now and again to my own country’s external intelligence organization.

Oh, I am too old to be a covert agent…too out of shape to have a fistfight with a Daniel Craig type.

But we remember certain things from our readings.  Wall Street = CIA.  This was Michael Ruppert’s assertion in his excellent book Crossing the Rubicon.  May Mr. Ruppert rest in peace.  No doubt he tried to do the right things during his time on this earth.  It was not until recently that I learned of his death.

Perhaps I began studying business as a roundabout way to court adventure.  There is no doubt that my future is not on Wall Street.  In fact, I don’t see much future at all.

Why?  Because I am like Robert Donat’s character in this film.  I can’t leave well-enough alone.  Killing in self-defense or in the defense of others can be honorable, but stretched to its limits by tenuous connection it eventually becomes murder.  When I read about the leading intelligence agencies of the world, I get the whiff of murder.  I get the scent of those who are “just following orders”…just like those good little Nazi soldiers.

It is this thirst for justice which makes me unemployable.  I know it.

And so I soldier on.  I do my cardio.  I lift my weights.  I study my texts.  I enrich my mind.

I am just a loner with my films.  I would like to contribute, but I was born of no prestigious family.  I don’t speak Dari or Pashto.

There are two camps of which I wish to be part of neither.  Camp one holds that everything America does is just and good. Camp two holds that nothing America does is just nor good.

I do not wish for a clean slate.  It is not possible.  Those who wish for the collapse of society are fools.  They are wishing for their own death and are far too optimistic about the practicality of starting over.

Now, dear film lover…you must be asking what this has to do with The 39 Steps.

Mr. Memory.

Office of Strategic Services.

Office of the Coordinator of Information.

Robert Sherwood.  movie critic.  Vanity Fair.  Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.  Algonquin Round Table. Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent.  Hitchcock.  Yes, it is a tenuous link.

Continuing…

Admiral John Godfrey.  “M”

Centre for Spastic Children, Chelsea.

…and finally

William Stephenson (c’est-à-dire) James Bond

the Icelandic orphan

alluded to in Casino Royale (2006)

to wit

British Security Coordination

Camp X (Whitby, Ontario) [the original Farm]

Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl

Rockefeller Center (35th and 36th floors of the International Building)

under the cover of British Passport Control Office

For better or worse, CIA is MI6.  Where does one stop and the other begin?  To what extent is this a private army for the corporate members of the Council on Foreign Relations (Royal Institute of International Affairs)?

Surely we’re all playing by the Chatham House rules here, aren’t we, gents?

-PD