The CIA and Hollywood, an Unlawful Alliance
ARTS, 30 May 2016
21 May 2016 – Vice News’s Jason Leopold reported recently that the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) provided “support” to a variety of Hollywood films, like Argo and Zero Dark Thirty; television series like Covert Affairs and Top Chef; documentaries; and even novels like Richard Patterson’s The Devil’s Light. Leopold said that the nature of the support is largely unknown because the CIA did not keep records of all of its meetings. A declassified CIA Inspector General’s report said, “OPA and other CIA employees did not always comply with Agency regulations intended to prevent the release of classified information during their interactions with entertainment industry representatives.”
Therein lies one of the problems with the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood. There’s little-to-no oversight. And when rules and laws are broken, nobody has to pay the piper.
In 2015, Vice reported that a separate CIA Inspector General’s report found that former Director Leon Panetta “allegedly disclosed classified information” when speaking with Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal, and that Panetta disclosed additional classified information to director Kathryn Bigelow. An even earlier Inspector General’s report detailed “Potential Ethics Violations Involving Film Producers” Bigelow and Boal, and said that CIA officers had accepted gifts from the two, including watches, restaurant meals, and tickets to the movie premiere, all of which went unreported. Presumably, this was in exchange for cooperating on the film.
CIA employees taking gifts from Hollywood producers for apparently giving them, in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, classified briefings on the bin Laden raid and then not reporting the gifts in their ethics filings is bad enough. The CIA director leaking classified information with impunity to the producers is worse. Indeed, it is a direct violation of the Obama administration’s definition of espionage: “Providing national defense information to any person not entitled to receive it.” That definition came directly from the judge in my case, when I was charged with espionage for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program.
But the worst, the most insidious, thing here is that the end result of the CIA’s cooperation with Hollywood and others in the entertainment industry is that it results in the propagandizing of the American people. That was illegal, until recently.
In the 1950s, the CIA initiated “Operation Mockingbird,” a long-term operation whereby the Agency planted articles in the American press. At the height of the program, some 25 major U.S. news outlets willingly published CIA propaganda meant for the American people.
That was outlawed in the immediate aftermath of the Church Committee hearings. Over time, many Americans forgot that the CIA had tried to influence them subversively. Indeed, many in Congress later said that the ban on propagandizing the American people was so that official outlets like the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti could not be broadcast to Americans.
But that all changed on July 2, 2013, with the passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which passed as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The new law allows a wide variety of propaganda meant for Americans. That includes CIA support for Hollywood.
Does this presage a period of television shows like The F.B.I., a series that ran from 1965-1974 and which had each episode personally approved by J. Edgar Hoover? Will Hollywood not be permitted to make movies or series critical of the Agency? Do we want John Brennan to be the guy who decides what we get to see?
Congress must re-implement the Smith-Mundt Act, the original one, and keep the government out of our movie theaters and televisions. Propaganda is a malicious force. It has no business in American society.
John Kiriakou is an Associate Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. He is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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