Body of Lies: Deconstructing the CIA’s Relationship With Hollywood_Featured_, Corporate Controlled Media Sunday, July 29th, 2012
By Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham
An offer they couldn’t refuse
Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham investigate
(Guardian.co.uk) Everyone who watches films knows about Hollywood’s fascination with spies. From Hitchcock’s postwar espionage thrillers, through cold war tales such as Torn Curtain, into the paranoid 1970s when the CIA came to be seen as an agency out of control in films such as Three Days of the Condor, and right to the present, with the Bourne trilogy and Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Body of Lies, film-makers have always wanted to get in bed with spies. What’s less widely known is how much the spies have wanted to get in bed with the film-makers. In fact, the story of the CIA’s involvement in Hollywood is a tale of deception and subversion that would seem improbable if it were put on screen.
The model for this is the defence department’s “open” but barely publicised relationship with Hollywood. The Pentagon, for decades, has offered film-makers advice, manpower and even hardware – including aircraft carriers and state-of-the-art helicopters. All it asks for in exchange is that the US armed forces are made to look good. So in a previous Scott film, Black Hawk Down, a character based on a real-life soldier who had also been a child rapist lost that part of his backstory when he came to the screen.
No matter how seemingly craven Hollywood’s behaviour towards the US armed forces has seemed, it has at least happened within the public domain. That cannot be said for the CIA’s dealings with the movie business. Not until 1996 did the CIA announce, with little fanfare, that it had established an Entertainment Liaison Office, which would collaborate in a strictly advisory capacity with film-makers. Heading up the office was Chase Brandon, who had served for 25 years in the agency’s elite clandestine services division, as an undercover operations officer. A PR man he isn’t, though he does have Hollywood connections: he’s a cousin of Tommy Lee Jones.
But the past 12 years of semi-acknowledged collaboration were preceded by decades in which the CIA maintained a deep-rooted but invisible influence of Hollywood. How could it be otherwise? As the former CIA man Bob Baer – whose books on his time with the agency were the basis for Syriana – told us: “All these people that run studios – they go to Washington, they hang around with senators, they hang around with CIA directors, and everybody’s on board.”
There is documentary evidence for his claims. Luigi Luraschi was the head of foreign and domestic censorship for Paramount in the early 1950s. And, it was recently discovered, he was also working for the CIA, sending in reports about how film censorship was being employed to boost the image of the US in movies that would be seen abroad. Luraschi’s reports also revealed that he had persuaded several film-makers to plant “negroes” who were “well-dressed” in their movies, to counter Soviet propaganda about poor race relations in the States. The Soviet version was rather nearer the truth.
Luraschi’s activities were merely the tip of the iceberg. Graham Greene, for example, disowned the 1958 adapatation of his Vietnam-set novel The Quiet American, describing it as a “propaganda film for America”. In the title role, Audie Murphy played not Greene’s dangerously ambiguous figure – whose belief in the justice of American foreign policy allows him to ignore the appalling consequences of his actions – but a simple hero. The cynical British journalist, played by Michael Redgrave, is instead the man whose moral compass has gone awry. Greene’s American had been based in part on the legendary CIA operative in Vietnam, Colonel Edward Lansdale. How apt, then, that it should have been Lansdale who persuaded director Joseph Mankewiecz to change the script to suit his own ends.
The CIA didn’t just offer guidance to film-makers, however. It even offered money. In 1950, the agency bought the rights to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and then funded the 1954 British animated version of the film. Its involvement had long been rumoured, but only in the past decade have those rumours been substantiated, and the tale of the CIA’s role told in Daniel Leab’s book Orwell Subverted.