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Spy Culture

Spy Culture - 2018-11-18 - Original post - cached version
In this month's susbcriber-only podcast I talk about my new screenplay project - a political satire of Hollywood. I talk about my history with acting and writing, and discuss some of my creative process, how I developed two simple ideas and combined them to form the basis for my screenplay. I also...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-14 - Original post - cached version
12 Strong a.k.a. Horse Soldiers is based on a book about a US Army Special Forces group sent to Afghanistan during the early days of the post-9/11 War on Terror.  Recently released emails from the Army show that they made changes to the script in exchange for their support, including trying to...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-13 - Original post - cached version
It isn't often that I see a film that angers and educates me in equal measure. War School: The Battle for Britain's Children is a new documentary exploring the growing peace movement in the UK, and the militarisation of British schools for propaganda and recruitment purposes. It highlights the...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-11 - Original post - cached version
Hollywood doesn’t make war films any more. This isn’t entirely true, but compared to the post-WW2 period there are a lot less war films being made today. In this in-depth episode I offer a brief history of war movies and anti-war movies, and how the Pentagon’s policy on supporting films depicting...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-09 - Original post - cached version
In the second of my subscriber-only reviews of The Wire I look at season 2. Focusing on smuggling through the port of Baltimore this season explores how capitalism has evolved to a post-industrial phase dominated by service industries like sex and drugs, how investigating sex slavery is relegated...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-08 - Original post - cached version
The late Cold War classic Top Gun is one of the most well-liked military movies of all time. It's combination of romance, comedy and never-seen-before aerial action was made possible by extensive support from the DOD, particularly the US Navy. It is credited with significantly boosting military...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-06 - Original post - cached version
The Vietnam war had a huge impact.  3 million dead Vietnamese, tens of thousands of dead Americans, and millions more on both sides suffering from trauma, depression and drug and alcohol addiction.  It also had a major influence on the US public’s willingness to engage in full-scale wars (at least...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-04 - Original post - cached version
The Founder is a 2016 biopic of Ray Kroc, the man who created McDonald’s. Or did he? In this episode I examine this ambiguous film, one of the best examples of cultural capitalism to come out of Hollywood in recent years. I explore how it avoids the negative consequences of the creation of...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-02 - Original post - cached version
This is part 1 of a new subscriber-only review series where I talk about The Wire. In this episode I discuss some of the recurring themes – the war on drugs, the failed police tactics, the dirty money trail – along with the complex metaphysics of the show. I talk about some of my favourite […]...
Spy Culture - 2018-11-01 - Original post - cached version
Sam Greenlee is perhaps most famous for writing the novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door, which was adapted into a film in the 1970s.  Greenlee believed that the CIA and FBI suppressed the film because it portrayed them in such a bad light, and promoted black militancy.  A recent response from the...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-30 - Original post - cached version
I recently filed a FOIA request for documents on Top Gun 2. Going through the entertainment liaison office reports it is clear that - just as on the original film - the Navy are taking the lead on military support. The Navy responded saying they found over 20,000 pages of potentially responsive...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-28 - Original post - cached version
In September 1977 the renowned Hollywood gossip columnist Rona Barrett appeared on Good Morning America to talk about spy films. Sat alongside her was CIA director Stansfield Turner, who commented that Hollywood movies would make poor training films for CIA spies. Within days a memo was...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-27 - Original post - cached version
Just as politicians start to believe their own speeches, intelligence agencies start to believe their own propaganda. Nowhere is this clearer than in the CIA's black stite torture program initiated in the wake of 9/11. Recently declassified documents detailing current CIA director Gina Haspel's...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-26 - Original post - cached version
On this month’s subscriber-only podcast I dissect the 1994 movie Swimming with Sharks, about a young man who goes to work at a Hollywood studio, where his boss (Kevin Spacey) abuses and bullies him relentlessly. I reflect on the film’s relevance in the wake of the #MeToo phenomenon, and how the...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-25 - Original post - cached version
12 Strong, based on the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, is set in the early days of the US war in Afghanistan. Emails released by the US Army detail the support they and the Air Force provided to the production as well as their communications with the producers. During shooting, one of the...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-24 - Original post - cached version
Wings (1927) was one of the first Hollywood films to benefit from full military support, was the first film to include sound effects on a film reel alongside the in-theater orchestra, and was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was also the first film to feature product...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-22 - Original post - cached version
Joanne invited me on the Around the Empire podcast to do a ‘high level compare and contrast’ of two war comedy films set in different wars in Afghanistan: Charlie Wilson’s War and War Machine. The films are similar in many respects – both comedies, both have A-list lead actors, both set in wars...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-21 - Original post - cached version
The new Amazon series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is the first TV show to film at CIA headquarters for several years, in keeping with the Agency’s long-time support for adaptations of Clancy’s work. In this episode I review and analyse the series, including the inevitable references to 9/11, the...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-20 - Original post - cached version
Joanne invited me on the Around the Empire podcast to do a 'high level compare and contrast' of two war comedy films set in different wars in Afghanistan: Charlie Wilson's War and War Machine. The films are similar in many respects - both comedies, both have A-list lead actors, both set in wars...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-18 - Original post - cached version
Amazon's new headline streaming series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is the first TV show to film at CIA headquarters for several years, after a fairly disastrous run that saw two awful movies along with an awful TV programme film there circa 2014. In keeping with the CIA's longstanding love affair with...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-16 - Original post - cached version
2003's The Core is widely regarded as a piece of schlock, but with a sense of humour. It is certainly one the least realistic films the US military has ever supported, featuring a small craft that drills into the Earth's core so a team of scientists can nuke the core, get it spinning again and...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-14 - Original post - cached version
The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) was established in the late 1970s and contains their entertainment liaison office. This week I go through an 8-page summary of the CIA’s Entertainment Liaison and Media Outreach activities covering 2014-16. This includes their relationships with journalists...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-10 - Original post - cached version
The CIA's Office of Public Affairs is - ironically - very tight-lipped about what they actually do, so I was pleased that they recently responded to a 3 year old FOIA request and provided me with a document summarising their activities from 2014 to 2016. This includes numerous meetings with...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-07 - Original post - cached version
To unsuspecting movie audiences Pitch Perfect 3 is a piece of lighthearted family-friendly entertainment to be enjoyed and then forgotten almost immediately. Lurking beneath this neutrally-toned surface lies a work of military recruitment propaganda, intelligently crafted to appeal to demographics...
Spy Culture - 2018-10-04 - Original post - cached version
MPAA President Jack Valenti maintained a long and friendly relationship with various branches of the US government, not least the Department of Defense.  He also harbored lifelong ambitions, including to be buried among America’s military heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.  The DOD recently...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-30 - Original post - cached version
Streaming content on-demand has changed the way people think about their relationship with entertainment, and drastically changed people’s viewing habits and behaviour. So in this episode we take a look at Netflix (and other on-demand platforms), the merits and demerits of the streaming model, and...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-26 - Original post - cached version
Pitch Perfect 3 appears on the surface to be a family-friendly piece of lighthearted, forgettable entertainment. But beneath that surface lies a carefully-crafted piece of military PR, aimed at recruiting people the DOD usually finds it hard to attract. Documents recently released by the US Air...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-23 - Original post - cached version
Most government agencies sign contracts with Hollywood producers when they agree to provide support on a film or TV show. These are called Production Assistance Agreements, and set out the legal terms of the partnership between the government and the production company. In this episode I explore...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-22 - Original post - cached version
Going back through some documents released by the Army on the Transformers films I noticed that some of the notes weren't script notes from pre-production, but were production notes from while Transformers: Dark of the Moon was filming. They show that sometimes the Pentagon continues to rewrite...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-21 - Original post - cached version
Two and a half  years ago I asked the US Navy for various documents relating to their work with the entertainment industry, including the Production Assistance Agreements they sign with Hollywood producers.  After over a year’s delay they responded saying that they don’t keep any copies of these...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-17 - Original post - cached version
As part of their outreach efforts the Air Force's entertainment liaison office has started running annual tours for dozens of Hollywood bigshots. Recently released documents detail last year's tour to US Space Command. In this focus episode I go through the documents page-by-page as an open source...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-15 - Original post - cached version
The last 24 hours of the Novichok saga has seen a new twist — European media are widely reporting that two Russian spies were caught attempting to either hack or break into the Spiez laboratory in Switzerland that was examining samples from the Salisbury poisoning. While this announcement of an...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-14 - Original post - cached version
The disinformation war kicked into high gear this week with the release of an interview with Petrov and Boshirov by RT. Many people, even sceptics of the British government’s story about the Skripals, have expressed how unconvincing the interview is, leading me to ask: was this RT’s intention?...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-13 - Original post - cached version
The story of the relationship between Disney and the various branches and agencies of the US government is long and complex.  A recently uncovered memo adds one more episode to the relationship between Disney and the CIA, and revolves around a question that was critical for national security: How...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-12 - Original post - cached version
Reel Power broke the mould for books covering the role of Hollywood in promoting militarism, war and the political status quo.  It took the Chomsky/Herman propaganda model and adapted it to film and TV, showing how Hollywood’s output varies, but tends to repeat and reinforce the same ideological...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-11 - Original post - cached version
The pain of 9/11 remains unresolved because the crime of 9/11 remains unsolved. In 17 years no one has been prosecuted for carrying out the attacks, and the court of public opinion is very much a hung jury.

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Spy Culture - 2018-09-11 - Original post - cached version
The US Space Force took one step closer to becoming a hyperreality when nearly 40 major Hollywood players went on an 'Industry Leader Tour' of US Space Command. Newly-released documents show that in the summer of 2017 dozens of writers, producers and executives signed up to participate in tour of...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-09 - Original post - cached version
Mark Felt is a 2017 biopic starring Liam Neeson as FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt, telling the story of his role in becoming a source for the Washington Post's reporting on Watergate. Following on from recent episodes on John Paisley and the Weather Underground, I offer a deconstructive view of...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-07 - Original post - cached version
The US military has a drinking problem, but like most of its problems it's OK because the entertainment liaison offices are there to make sure Hollywood doesn't draw attention to it. From episodes of Wonder Woman through to blockbuster films, scenes of services members drinking have been edited...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-06 - Original post - cached version
Image 5 in the Met Police’s CCTV collection of Petrov and Boshirov also poses some questions. Their timeline says: Image five shows the suspects ten minutes later — at 11.58 — on Wilton Road, Salisbury, we say, moments before the attack. The police did not say where on Wilton Road that this image...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-06 - Original post - cached version
In the latest chapter in the Salisbury Novichok saga the police have released a selection of images of two men they are naming as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. While there has been widespread speculation that the images are fake, doctored or otherwise not real pictures, this has involved a...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-05 - Original post - cached version
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is a 2017 biopic of former deputy director Mark Felt a.k.a. Deep Throat.  The FBI were involved with the film early on in its development, which is odd because in many ways the film portrays the Bureau very badly. The movie tells the story of...
Spy Culture - 2018-09-02 - Original post - cached version
Condor is a TV reboot of Three Days of the Condor, and centres around a CIA officer who goes on the run after he is framed for killing 11 of his colleagues. In this episode I examine whether Condor was CIA-sponsored, why the Agency might support a series that shows them planning massive crimes,...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-30 - Original post - cached version
In this special episode I reflect on the war in Syria and the propaganda emanating from governments on both sides.  In particular I focus in on how the apparently anti-war Left has been fooled into becoming de facto propagandists for the Russian and Syrian security states, and how the same binary...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-29 - Original post - cached version
The FBI’s entertainment liaison office has supported a wide range of Hollywood productions, from conspiracy thrillers like Shooter to comedy adventures like So Undercover to action dramas including Captain Phillips.  But they also rejected a large proportion of the requests they receive for...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-26 - Original post - cached version
The military legal drama Rules of Engagement is perhaps the greatest modern example of racist, warmongering propaganda. Unsurprisingly, it benefited from full Pentagon support, in exchange for numerous script changes. The film was eerily prescient, foreshadowing two terrorist attacks in Yemen, and...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-23 - Original post - cached version
Rules of Engagement is notable for being possibly the most violent, racist, colonialist film Hollywood has made since the end of the Cold War.  It pre-empted two real life terrorist attacks in Yemen including one on the US embassy.  The film was produced with close co-operation from the DOD,...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-22 - Original post - cached version
Marvel have enjoyed a long-running and mutually beneficial relationship with the Pentagon, but there was a falling out during production of The Avengers (2012).  On this month’s subscriber-only podcast I examine two of the MCU films that immediately followed this argument – Iron Man 3 and Captain...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-19 - Original post - cached version
The Weather Underground were the most active and successful militant left-wing group in US history. As part of their anti-Vietnam war operations they bombed the Pentagon, the State Department, corporate headquarters and other high-profile targets. In this episode I examine whether they were a...
Spy Culture - 2018-08-13 - Original post - cached version
The Weather Underground were the most successful Leftist militant group in history, a radical offshoot of the SDS and the anti-Vietnam War movement.  As a result, Hollywood has almost no interest in telling stories about them and the only recent film on the Weathermen was Robert Redford’s low...

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