It has been a very good year for America’s CIA. Not one but two Oscar-nominated films about their triumphs: extricating six American diplomats from Iran, as told by Affleck’s Argo, and the tracking and assisinaton of Osama Bin Laden, in Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. On television, Showtime’s Homeland has also received numerous accolades. Indeed, Hollywood seems to have fallen in love with and taken great pleasure in celebrating the work of, as Ben Affleck has so often remarked when at the podium, “the clandestine services.”
I have seen both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Both are excellent films. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if either won the most coveted Oscar, Best Picture, when the time comes in early March. I’m also not as fussed as others about the way in which both films have dramatized history. It’s Hollywood, after all. Moreover, I do not hold the view, as others do, that Zero Dark Thirty glorifies or endorses
torture enhanced interrogation.
What bothers me about these films, and about the positive attention Homeland has received, isn’t so much that these shows and films have been made; it’s the speed with which society seems to forgive, indeed celebrate the CIA and its brother and sister intelligence organizations around the world.
On Oscar night, if Affleck’s film takes home the big trophy, I have no doubt he will again draw attention to real-life CIA operative Tony Mendez, and his fellow officers in “the clandestine services” for the heroic work they do. I doubt, however, the names Salvadore Allende, Patrice Lumumba, or Mohammad Mosaddeq will pass his lips.
Allende was the first Marxist to become president of a Latin American country through open elections. Lumumba was the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. Mosadeq was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran.
In every case, at every turn, these individuals, democratically elected by their people, were overthrown, undermined, outright assasinated to safeguard American interests. It is a travesty. The real history of the CIA isn’t worth celebrating, but shaming: at every turn, with every opportunity to advance human security, they chose to secure American capital.
In the case of Chile, Allende was replaced with Augusto Pinochet, whose name is synonymous with iron-fisted military junta. And in Iran, Mosaddeq was overthrown in a coup d’État orchestrated by the British MI6 and the CIA, which cemented the autocracy of the Shah.
These people were intentionally subjugated by ruthless autocrats installed or supported by America—and today the American people are shocked when Egyptians, Iranians, and countless other nations don’t greet them as liberators and friends.
Thanks but no thanks.
So, best of luck to Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, and to Homeland, and the myriad other shows and films that celebrate the work of the CIA. I suggest, however, if you’re looking for a real thriller, you delve a little deeper for the real story of the clandestine services: it’s horrific.