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Spy Culture

Spy Culture - 2019-09-22 - Original post - cached version
Why is it that capitalist economies and cultures produce anti-capitalist products? In this month’s subscriber podcast I examine three examples of anti-capitalist pop culture – Sorry to Bother You, Office Uprising and Corporate. I discuss how their storylines contain some very pertinent criticisms...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-20 - Original post - cached version
One of the most common conspiracy theories you hear in this line of research is that the Pentagon and CIA fund Hollywood movies.  This isn't entirely untrue - the CIA covertly funded productions of Animal Farm and 1984 in the early Cold War period - but on the whole, it is untrue.  In all the many...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-18 - Original post - cached version
The role of the technical advisor is crucial to understanding the military-Hollywood relationship, but very few people know who these people are or what they do.  Even less well known is that a significant number of private industry technical advisors used to work for the Pentagon's entertainment...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-15 - Original post - cached version
In 1998 the CIA got an opportunity to infiltrate one of their spies into the Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, but turned it down. This week, I examine the autobiography of that spy – Aukai Collins, an American jihadi who became a deep cover agent for the FBI and CIA. From his time training in camps...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-09 - Original post - cached version
The latest trailer for Amazon Prime's Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is a perfect illustration of Western double standards and hypocrisy over the global arms trade.  As I predicted in an earlier article, the plotline centres on Venezuela and in all likelihood is going to be little more than regime change...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-08 - Original post - cached version
The US Navy SEALs are known as the ‘quiet professionals’, but in recent times they have become the highest-profile of all US special forces. In this episode I examine several films depicting the SEALs, how the Pentagon has shaped their public image through Hollywood, and why they have become so...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-07 - Original post - cached version
Captain Phillips tells the story of the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama - a US container ship - off the coast of Somalia, and the subsequent US Navy intervention that killed three of the pirates and arrested the fourth.  It is also one of the least historically accurate films ever made,...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-06 - Original post - cached version
Walt Disney World Resort’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens this week - 14 acres of Star Wars experience for those who want to waste their money on plastic replicas of pod racers, Jar Jar Binks masks and hair dye so they can look like Vice Admiral Gender Studies from The Last Jedi.  To promote this...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-06 - Original post - cached version
2012's Act of Valor is widely recognised as the terrible, dull, depressing, futile piece of cinema that it surely is, but what is less well-recognised is that it was the brainchild of the US Navy's Special Warfare Recruiting Directorate, and they had a hand in every stage of its production. ...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-05 - Original post - cached version
Lone Survivor is a piece of absolute militaristic schlock, starring the whiny-voiced Marky Mark Wahlberg as Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell - the only survivor of Operation Red Wings, a 2005 special forces joint operation in the summer of 2005.  Over 100 pages of Navy documents show their heavy...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-04 - Original post - cached version
GI Jane is a crude, clumsy attempt to show a 'woman's perspective' on being in the military, that ruined Demi Moore's career as a leading lady.  Little known until now is how the Pentagon negotiated with Ridley Scott to rewrite the script, and even though the film didn't qualify for military...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-03 - Original post - cached version
One issue that comes up repeatedly in the script changes enforced by the Pentagon is war crimes, and other violations of the Geneva Conventions.  As is so often the case I'm left thinking 'if only the DOD applied the same rules to real life wars as they do to the depiction of wars in Hollywood...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-02 - Original post - cached version
In the second part of our discussion (following Combat Obscura), Henri, Keagan and I talked about the 1989 Oliver Stone classic Born on the 4th of July.  Based on the real life experiences of Ron Kovic, we charted the film's development in the late 70s and into the 80s, the Pentagon's response...
Spy Culture - 2019-09-01 - Original post - cached version
Why isn’t the ‘political film’ a genre of cinema? Hollywood puts out a consistent stream of politically-themed films, but rarely if ever promotes them as such. In this episode I review and critique the book The ‘Disguised’ Political Film in Contemporary Hollywood, discussing both the good and the...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-27 - Original post - cached version
I was looking forward to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, having been a fan of giant creature features since I was a young boy.  The blend of massive-scale action and affirming our need to respect nature is a winning combination for me.  Then I watched it, and it was one of the dumbest films I have...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-25 - Original post - cached version
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush’s chief spin doctor and senior advisor Karl Rove enlisted Hollywood’s help in selling the War on Terror. This week, I examine this White House-driven propaganda effort and assess its influence on Hollywood’s output. Focusing in on...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-20 - Original post - cached version
Sometimes the US military's rewriting of scripts is very specific - take out this joke about the US losing in Vietnam, swap this bottle of beer for an energy drink, remove this scene where soldiers set fire to a village and rape all the women. At other times their requested changes are very broad...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-18 - Original post - cached version
Omar Nasiri was a Moroccan who spent 6 years spying on Al Qaeda for several European intelligence agencies. In this episode I review his autobiography Inside the Jihad, including the year he spent in Afghan training camps in the mid-1990s. Focusing on his relationships with French and British...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-13 - Original post - cached version
Amazon Prime's The Boys is not only the most enjoyable TV show I've seen all year, it's also the most subversive.  While it will appeal to audiences suffering from superhero fatigue after more than a decade of relentless Marvel and DC products, it is so much more than that.  It subverts both...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-11 - Original post - cached version
Did we really go to the moon? Yes, probably, but American Moon is an epic 3 1/2 hour documentary that tries to make arguments that the Apollo missions were faked. In this month's subscriber podcast I offer a critical review of American Moon, from the photographic evidence to the geopolitics of...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-10 - Original post - cached version
Co-founder of the Village People and co-writer of 'YMCA', 'Macho Man' and 'In the Navy' Henri Belolo died last saturday at the age of 82.  Born in Casablanca, Belolo was a key member of perhaps the first openly gay disco outfit.  He also participated in one of the funniest co-sponsorship deals the...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-09 - Original post - cached version
I recently joined Henri from the Fortress on a Hill podcast for our latest discussion on military movies. We talked about the eyeopening documentary Combat Obscura, compiled from footage shot by Marine Corps combat cameramen in Afghanistan.  We hone in on how the film breaks through the usual...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-07 - Original post - cached version
The US Army's emails on The Long Road Home show that not everything ran smoothly while filming progressed as Fort Hood.  While all of the information on script input is redacted, one email contains production notes from the Army's project officer Lt Col. Timothy Hyde, warning him to 'keep an eye...
Spy Culture - 2019-08-04 - Original post - cached version
The 2006 arrests of the Toronto 18 was a key moment in the post-9/11 war on terror. It helped internationalise the war effort and added Canada to the list of supposed terrorist targets. This week I examine the life and work of the main Canadian intelligence informant inside the Toronto 18 – Mubin...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-31 - Original post - cached version
I recently obtained 50 pages of documents from the CIA on the support they provided to Michael Bay's Benghazi movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.  In this investigation for Shadowproof I outline how the relationship between Bay and the Agency started well, how they leaned on Bay to...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-30 - Original post - cached version
The teaser trailer for season 2 of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan depicts John Krasinski as the eponymous hero in a Latin American country where there is an uprising against the government (cough, Venezuela, cough).  Like season 1, I expect the show will be fully supported by the CIA but the DOD rejected...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-28 - Original post - cached version
The relationship between government liaison offices and the entertainment industry usually works well, resulting in added production value for the industry’s products and the furtherance of the government’s agendas. But sometimes things go wrong. This week we look at what happens when the...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-25 - Original post - cached version
A story doing the rounds in the last few days claims that the producers of Top Gun: Maverick changed the decals on the back of his leather jacket in order to 'appease Communist China'.  While the story may be true, not a single report has highlighted the much more egregious censorship of the...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-24 - Original post - cached version
The US military's negotiations on the 1980s Clint Eastwood vehicle Heartbreak Ridge were protracted and complex, resulting in numerous changes before the movie could be approved for Pentagon support.  This included changing Clint Eastwood's character from a soldier to a marine after the US Army...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-24 - Original post - cached version
News about this site appears to be spreading - after the flurry of articles citing Spy Culture around the release of Captain Marvel earlier this year, the Washington Business Journal put out a piece on the Top Gun: Maverick trailer using the production assistance agreement I obtained under FOIA. ...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-23 - Original post - cached version
For over a decade the CBS action drama NCIS has enjoyed a very close working relationship with the US military, which allows the entertainment liaison offices to review every script, even for episodes where they provide no support.  This unusual situation nearly fell apart in early 2014 when the...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-21 - Original post - cached version
NCIS is a wildly successful TV drama, one of the most popular series of the last 20 years. This week I recount how the DOD, Navy and Marine Corps routinely rewrite episodes of NCIS to fit their PR and propaganda goals. I look at why the relationship between the producers and the military nearly...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-20 - Original post - cached version
In this guest article Matt Alford - alongside Drs Daniel Broudy, Jeffery Klaehn, Alan MacLeod and Florian Zollmann - lay out their case that news media has systemically downplayed or simply avoided discussing the bloody consequences of Western foreign policy.  While the crimes of NATO allies are...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-19 - Original post - cached version
Tom Cruise dropped into San Diego Comic-Con this week to premiere the trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, which is nothing short of a fan service nostalgia reel and some cheesy dialogue about how Maverick is still - you've guessed it - a Maverick.  All indications are that it will be a soft reboot of...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-18 - Original post - cached version
The US Air Force recently released a tranche of documents on the support they provided to the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man.  This included their Rules of Engagement for companies filming on Edwards Air Force Base, which detail the stringent and at times ludicrous restrictions the Air Force...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-16 - Original post - cached version
Michael Bay is well known for working closely with government agencies when making his films, mostly the Pentagon but also NASA.  Less well known is how he worked with the CIA to vet his script for the Benghazi movie 13 Hours, and how his request to film the CIA's Memorial Wall was turned down by...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-13 - Original post - cached version
On this feature-length subscriber podcast I analyse the Hulu TV drama The Looming Tower (based on the original book by Lawrence Wright). It tells the story of the intelligence breakdown between the CIA's Alec Station and the FBI's I-49 squad, honing in on the tetchy relationship between the FBI's...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-10 - Original post - cached version
The Pentagon’s Film Office file on Heartbreak Ridge is one of the more lengthy and interesting sets of documents.  It tells the story of how the film was rejected by the Army but was supported by the Marine Corps, before being disowned by the DOD after they previewed a rought cut of the movie. ...
Spy Culture - 2019-07-07 - Original post - cached version
Morten Storm is a Danish man who converted to Islam in the 1990s and got involved in the jihadi scene in Denmark, the UK, Yemen and Somalia. In 2006 he suffered a loss of faith, and turned to Danish intelligence and offered to help them fight the war on terror. He spent several years working for...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-30 - Original post - cached version
The in-development film Raven Four-Two tells the story of a battle in 2005 between insurgents and a Kentucky Army National Guard Military Police Unit, during the war in Iraq.  Documents released by the US Army reveal that the film is being produced by two former Army Public Affairs officers, and...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-26 - Original post - cached version
The US Army's regulations on Public Affairs activities are over 100 pages of rules and restriction governing how the Army interacts with news media, entertainment media and other public events.  It outlines which activities require prior approval from Army Public Affairs chiefs (i.e. most of them...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-24 - Original post - cached version
Just like other government departments the Foreign & Commonwealth Office requires film and TV producers to sign contracts with them to provide production assistance.  The agreement signed with the makers of Downton Abbey includes an interesting clause - they signed up to abide by the...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-22 - Original post - cached version
What happens when people are given too much information? They feel overwhelmed, which quickly becomes apathy and political paralysis. In this episode I analyse the philosophical and critical origins of our current political malaise, where many people feel the system is incapable of facing up to...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-21 - Original post - cached version

The Pentagon recently released the Production Assistance Agreement they signed with the producers of Top Gun: Maverick. It details the vast scale of support provided to the film, including turning over command authority to Jerry Bruckheimer, and notes that Navy officials would 'weave in key...

Spy Culture - 2019-06-20 - Original post - cached version
The new Superman is now a Navy SEAL.  No, you didn't misread that - the affable journalist Clarke Kent is being erased from history in favour of making the world's most famous superhero an advert for naval special forces.  "Superman: Year One" went on sale this week as part of DC's attempt to...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-19 - Original post - cached version
A week ago the US Army posted a youtube video of the Army Field Band's new hip-hop track 'Won't Be Defeated'.  At the time of writing its likes-dislikes ratio is 625 to 593, and the comments section is littered with mocking and ironic comments.  As a PR and recruiting effort it has backfired quite...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-19 - Original post - cached version
The PRISM Awards are an entertainment industry ceremony that gives out gongs for accurate depictions of substance abuse and mental health problems in films and TV shows.  In 2012 the Pentagon were asked to attend and participate in the awards, which caused quite a stir within the entertainment...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-16 - Original post - cached version
In this month's subscriber-only podcast I examine the 1975 movie Rollerball, about an ultra-violent bloodsport and the corporate dystopian society surrounding it. I discuss some of my favourite scenes in the film and how they reflect aspects of our present, real society, as well as the political...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-12 - Original post - cached version
Despite its enormous popularity there are many problems with Breaking Bad - the utterly racist depiction of Mexicans, the glorifying of a sociopathic protagonist and that incredibly boring and pointless fifth season come to mind.  But what has never been discussed before is how the show functions...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-11 - Original post - cached version

The soft reboot of the political drama Designated Survivor recently dropped on Netflix and in spite of Kiefer Sutherland making the least convincing president since Sarah Palin it is a considerable improvement on the first two seasons. What no other critic has noticed is that the CIA...

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