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Spy Culture

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...

Spy Culture - 2019-06-09 - Original post - cached version
Fields of Fire is one of the greatest movies that was never made. A brutal but sympathetic portrait of the Vietnam War, it was denied military support despite being written by a former Secretary of the Navy. This week I examine the story of Fields of Fire using a file from the DOD’s entertainment...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-07 - Original post - cached version
When James Webb approached the Pentagon to ask for assistance making his Vietnam war drama Fields of Fire he had every right to expect their support.  A former Marine and short-term Secretary of the Navy he was a military veteran who had written his novel based on his own real-life experiences of...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-06 - Original post - cached version
Today I received an email that I thought I would share with you, from the publishers of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology.  It said that the two articles I penned for the journal were among the top 20 most-downloaded articles in the year following publication, and even offered me a...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-06 - Original post - cached version
The DOD's directive on working with Hollywood says that they can provide production assistance if it is deemed 'in the best interest of the Nation', but as with all their criteria for deciding whether to give support the Pentagon interpret this very broadly.  They use the considerable influence...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-03 - Original post - cached version
When the producers of Clear and Present Danger approached the Pentagon to ask for military support they probably weren't expecting 6 months of script negotiations to get their film into a shape deemed acceptable by the entertainment liaison offices.  Documents from the DOD show how their concerns...
Spy Culture - 2019-06-02 - Original post - cached version
1994’s Clear and Present Danger is one of the most important movies in the cinema of the war on drugs, depicting black operations by the CIA and US military against a Colombian drug cartel. In this episode I do a deep dive on Clear and Present Danger, and how it set the standards for much of the...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-30 - Original post - cached version
The relationship between intelligence agencies and the entertainment industry is complex and multi-faceted.  Angles include the influence of the agencies on their own public image, the influence of entertainment on the agencies, and intelligence-gathering by those agencies on the culture industry...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-29 - Original post - cached version
Netflix recently ordered a 10-episode first series of Q-Force, the world's first animated LGBTQ spy series.  Pitched as a 'gay James Bond' the cartoon will undoubtedly contain the usual PR for the security state, wrapped up in a rainbow flag.  No doubt it will be heralded by numerous liberal and...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-28 - Original post - cached version
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently released nearly 200 pages of contracts between themselves and entertainment producers, which for the first time shed light on how they interact with Hollywood. The documents reveal that the DEA has been quite active in the entertainment industry,...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-26 - Original post - cached version
Iran-Contra is in many ways the definitive government conspiracy – involving guns, drugs, anti-communism and black operations, it went all the way to the White House. This week I examine several films that implicitly or explicitly incorporate the Iran-Contra conspiracy into their plots, as well as...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-24 - Original post - cached version
In 2014 the Washington Post's Adam Goldman published a story about the CIA producing dolls of Osama bin Laden as part of an influence operation designed to diminish the former Al Qaeda's leader's popularity in the Middle East.  The dolls would be made so the paint on the eyes would easily rub off...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-21 - Original post - cached version
1988's The Presidio wanted to film at the real Presidio in San Francisco, an Army installation.  As per usual this required a full military script review, but the DOD responded demanding a 'complete rewrite' before they would approve access to the base.  The resulting film bears little resemblance...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-20 - Original post - cached version
The US military's ever-expanding portfolio of recruitment efforts just broke new ground: the Professional Fighters League.  This mixed martial arts league is watched the world over and a recent event in Nassau was sponsored by Air Force Special Ops and the Air Force Reserve Command.  It seems no...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-19 - Original post - cached version
Monster movies are one of the most beloved and distinctive genres in cinema, featuring a winning combination of exotic spectacle, ground-breaking visual effects and reflections on humanity’s relationship with nature. This week I examine the politics and ideas behind some of the most recognisable...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-15 - Original post - cached version
In 1998 retired FBI deputy director Cartha DeLoach was asked by the producers of The X-Files to review the script for an episode of the show that was set in the 1950s.  The FBI recently released DeLoach's response to the producers, where he branded the script 'very entertaining but Sophmorish',...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-14 - Original post - cached version
In a guest article for Spy Culture my good friend and co-author of National Security Cinema Matt Alford reviews Ben Shapiro's book Primetime Propaganda. Matt examines whether Shapiro's central premise - that there is a left/liberal bias in entertainment media - is actually true, and presents some...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-13 - Original post - cached version
On this month's subscriber-only podcast I review one of my favourite films of all time - Starship Troopers. I discuss the film's dual narratives, how it is an anti-war film disguised as a piece of war propaganda, and why it was so misunderstood when it first came out. I outline my view that...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-08 - Original post - cached version
Chris and Danny invited me back onto their podcast to discuss the 1994 comedy-drama Forrest Gump.  We talked about the original book by Winston Groom as well as McNamara's 100,000 - a project to recruit troops into the US Army who would normally have fallen below the required standards.  We honed...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-08 - Original post - cached version
The 2005 biographical war film Jarhead is one of a very small number of films set in the first Gulf War.  Despite being based on the autobiography of a Marine who served in Desert Storm the DOD refused to provide it with military support.  But how can a film based on a first-hand account not meet...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-06 - Original post - cached version
Superman is one of the world’s most recognisable cultural icons. A symbol of human idealism, he has been subject to a range of political and philosophical agendas over the last 80 years. This week I analyse the ideas behind Superman, and how they have manifested and changed throughout the course...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-02 - Original post - cached version
The Superman reboot Man of Steel launched the (now abandoned) DC Extended Universe, and put a much darker tinge on the Superman franchise than any previous incarnation, especially the Christopher Reeve classics.  Man of Steel benefited from large-scale support from the military, but hidden until...
Spy Culture - 2019-05-01 - Original post - cached version
I recently saw Avengers: Endgame and it’s a pretty spectacular end to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. It is also the greatest piece of promotion for the predominant economic model of our time that I’ve ever seen.

(Read more...)

Spy Culture - 2019-04-30 - Original post - cached version
In 1977 the producers of Superman and Superman II approached the Pentagon to try to obtain stock footage of missiles launching, for use in depicting Lex Luthor's dastardly plot to nuke the San Andreas fault.  The Air Force and Strategic Air Command were provided with copies of the script in order...
Spy Culture - 2019-04-28 - Original post - cached version
Black Panther and Django Unchained are perhaps the two most successful movies featuring black actors in lead roles that Hollywood has ever made. But are they as radical as they seem? This week I analyse these films, how they operate as emotive fantasies for black audiences. Focusing in on the dual...
Spy Culture - 2019-04-25 - Original post - cached version
In my latest article for Shadowproof I examine the FBI's role in the Mark Felt biopic Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.  Using documents obtained under FOIA and an interview with Ed Gray, the son of FBI acting director Pat Gray (who is depicted in Mark Felt) I reveal the film's...
Spy Culture - 2019-04-24 - Original post - cached version
The 2010 thriller Unthinkable courted controversy by depicting the torture of a suspected terrorist who claims to have planted nuclear bombs in three US cities. Despite a strong cast including Samuel L Jackson, Carrie-Ann Moss and Stephen Root it was released direct-to-video and lost money....
Spy Culture - 2019-04-24 - Original post - cached version
There are many reasons to dislike Game of Thrones - the endless hype, the gratuitous sex and violence in lieu of a meaningful plot, the experience of having to listen to fans of the show blather on long after you've told them you don't watch the show and aren't interested.  The CIA have just added...
Spy Culture - 2019-04-23 - Original post - cached version
Deep Impact is one of a pair of twin films released in 1998 that were based around a giant meteor colliding with earth. The film and its twin, the more successful Armageddon, were both supported by NASA and the Department of Defense. Inevitably, this meant script changes to fit in with the...
Spy Culture - 2019-04-21 - Original post - cached version
While it is now considered a Cold War classic Ice Station Zebra was a flop when it was first released. This week, I review Ice Station Zebra and analyse the development of the film, how it differs quite radically from the book, and why the DOD rejected an early version of the script, leading to a...
Spy Culture - 2019-04-18 - Original post - cached version
On this month's subscriber-only podcast I break down a 2016 interview with British political satirist Armando Iannucci by Chatham House, a.k.a. the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Topics include the EU referendum, the election of Donald Trump, the re-emergence of both Left and Right wing...

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