October 12th, 2012
11:17 AM ET

Spy movie gets out the spy community

by Suzanne Kelly

The small theater in Washington was packed with friends and admirers of Antonio Mendez. The highly-decorated former CIA officer, played by Ben Affleck in the movie 'Argo,' is the real-life mastermind behind the once-classified 1979 operation to sneak six Americans out of Iran in the aftermath of the Embassy siege in 1979.

But this screening was markedly different than the premiere. Instead of the film stars like Ben Affleck and John Goodman, the Washington screening was mainly filled with the people who live their lives in the shadows.

While the movie definitely invokes a pulse-pounding pace that typically only exists in Hollywood, the extent to which Mendez was able to pull off the daring real-life rescue is impressive. Impressive enough to not only earn him a place on the silver screen, but he was also awarded the Intelligence Star for Valor, one of the highest honors a CIA Officer can receive.

The Spy Museum's Director, Peter Earnest (a former CIA Officer himself) paid tribute, as did the audience, with a standing ovation after the movie. Proof enough that coming out of the shadows can have it's perks

Mistaken for a terrorist: Homeland star only plays one on TV
October 5th, 2012
12:28 AM ET

Mistaken for a terrorist: Homeland star only plays one on TV

By Suzanne Kelly

It's hard to say that looking like a terrorist would be a good thing, but it hasn't gone so badly for Navid Negahban.

The Iranian-born actor, who has played a range of bad guys during his career, currently plays terrorist Abu Nazir on the Showtime hit series "Homeland," and the success of the series has made him one of the world's best-known non-terrorists.

That may be a good thing for his acting career. Turns out it's not so good at airports.

"What happens is that I'm playing all of these different characters and my facial hair changes and I have different looks," said Negahban on a recent cell phone call from Los Angeles. "When I'm at the airport, the agents look at my passport and they look at me and there is something in their eyes, and you can see them thinking, 'I know this guy. Where have I seen him before?'"

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Comic imagines world of top secret military unit
August 16th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Comic imagines world of top secret military unit

By Henry Hanks

Early this year, comic book writer Nathan Edmondson set out to tell fictional stories based on the super-secret U.S. government paramilitary organization once named the Intelligence Support Activity (or ISA).

But it turns out what Edmonson created from his wildest imaginations hues pretty close to reality about the little known, seldom discussed agency.

His stories focused on a specialized subset of the organization that was a "technologically advanced, mixed-gender team of first responders with backgrounds in a variety of military and spy disciplines."

In reality, the ISA has been around since the 1970s. Originally hidden from the Pentagon and Congress, its existence has never publicly or officially been acknowledged.

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Filed under: Military • Pop Culture
Promotion for Navy Secretary Mabus courtesy Hollywood
May 17th, 2012
04:23 PM ET

Promotion for Navy Secretary Mabus courtesy Hollywood

By Larry Shaughnessy

Those who spend enough time around the military know promotions are important to folks in uniform. But one sailor has made the jump from a lieutenant (junior grade) to captain in one big leap, with help from Hollywood.

Ray Mabus served as a very junior officer on the USS Little Rock in the early 1970s. He left the Navy with the rank of a junior lieutenant and later became a successful businessman, diplomat and politician.

Now he's secretary of the Navy, the civilian in charge of the entire Navy and Marine Corps.

But he's donned the khaki uniform again. Only this time he's just one promotion short of an admiral. FULL POST

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Filed under: Navy • Pop Culture
The sometimes perilous business of spy thrillers
Executive Producer Howard Gordon and Director of Photography Chris Manly on location
May 4th, 2012
02:34 PM ET

The sometimes perilous business of spy thrillers

by Suzanne Kelly

Selling a spy novel these days can be a killer.

While there is undoubtedly an appetite for fast-paced, heart-thumping thrills in print, it seems that a combination of shrinking shelf space and authors who publish books seemingly forever are making the competition stiff.

"Dead authors and old authors never leave the marketplace anymore," says a New York-based literary agent who asked not to be identified because the thriller community is so small and tightly knit. "They are taking up the shelf space and the challenge is, if you're a new writer without a platform, is how to get a number of books taken that is gonna challenge the weekly onslaught of already-established writers."

Some hugely successful authors such as James Patterson and Tom Clancy have started working with less-established writers, which means they can crank out more books under their already-proven brand identities. Such trends have seen other authors long departed, including Robert Ludlum and Ian Fleming, continue to be published, even in death.

"Every time an author hires someone to write books with him, every time he does that, he's taking up a slot that might have been for a new writer," says the agent, who adds there is also a flip side: Those lucky few, the less-experienced authors, can garner attention they may not have been able to get otherwise. FULL POST

"Hill"arious: Hillary Clinton embraces parody site
Image posted on 'Texts From Hillary' of the creators meeting the Secretary of State
April 10th, 2012
07:25 PM ET

"Hill"arious: Hillary Clinton embraces parody site

By Elise Labott

Hillary Clinton can often be found on the road checking her BlackBerry. When Moammar Gadhafi was caught by Libyan rebels last year, she was captured on tape receiving the news on her BlackBerry.

Now, the new online sensation, "Texts from Hillary" Tumblr, imagines what the secretary of State is chatting about.

The blog, which recently went viral, features photos of Clinton on her BlackBerry with imagined conversations over text between the secretary and various politicians and other notables, also shown in photos using their phones.

FULL POST

Tiger Woods a Navy SEAL?
February 29th, 2012
06:51 AM ET

Tiger Woods a Navy SEAL?

An upcoming book by Tiger Woods' former coach Steve Haney claims Tiger considered giving up the clubs to become a Navy SEAL.

In "The Big Miss," Hank Haney writes that Tiger was "seriously considering" becoming a SEAL, according to an excerpt posted by Golf Digest.  The book is releasing March 27th.

"Wow, here is Tiger Woods, greatest athlete on the planet, maybe the greatest athlete ever, right in the middle of his prime, basically ready to leave it all behind for a military life," Haney writes. FULL POST

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Bin Laden movie probed
January 5th, 2012
01:02 PM ET

Bin Laden movie probed

By Larry Shaughnessy

The Department of Defense says it will investigate whether there was any impropriety in aiding the making of a yet-to-be-released movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The probe by the Pentagon's inspector general comes after questions were raised last summer by Rep. Peter King, R-New York, who demanded investigations by the Department of Defense and CIA inspectors general into what, if any, classified information about special operations tactics, techniques, and procedures were leaked to the filmmakers.

King claimed that the White House gave the filmmakers access to top White House and Pentagon officials with knowledge of the bin Laden raid. The filmmakers included Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, who made the Oscar-winning movie "The Hurt Locker."

"This alleged collaboration belies a desire of transparency in favor of a cinematographic view of history," King wrote last August in calling for the investigation.

"Administration officials may have provided filmmakers with details of the raid that successfully killed" bin Laden, he wrote, citing a New York Times report. FULL POST

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Filed under: CIA • Congress • Inspector General • Osama bin Laden • Pentagon • Peter King • Pop Culture
Pop Security: 'Covert Affairs' shows human side of CIA
December 5th, 2011
10:08 AM ET

Pop Security: 'Covert Affairs' shows human side of CIA

Editor's note: This story is part of a new Security Clearance blog series called "Pop Security" which looks at how national security is addressed in popular culture

by Henry Hanks

When Matt Corman and Chris Ord first came up with the idea for "Covert Affairs" – USA's hit series, finishing out its second season on Tuesday night – they didn't see it as your typical action adventure spy show.

"Our first way into this was looking at the CIA as a workplace," said Corman, who noted that Washington, D.C. as a setting for a series intrigued them. "Langley is enormous – anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 people go there to a job, the same way they go to an office park. We were interested in the confluence of a job as a spy, and the life of a spy."

The series focuses on Annie Walker, a new recruit to the CIA, who struggles to balance a personal life in between missions at home and around the world. A constant source of advice for her is Auggie Anderson, a tech operative, who was stricken blind while serving in Iraq.

"Yes, [CIA officers] do an extraordinary job and they have a different job from what most people do, but at the end of the day, they’re people and want the same things other people want. I don’t think we’ve seen that in the classic spy genre," said Ord.
Of course, creating a series that tried to adhere to the reality of the CIA wasn't easy.

"It took some digging but we found a way to get into Langley and get a tour and really see it for ourselves," said Ord. "That original research trip was huge for us creatively in terms of writing the pilot and really established a great relationship with the agency."

As Corman pointed out, "So many of the little nuggets and details of the show came from real life, like the fact that there’s a Starbucks at the CIA." FULL POST

November 3rd, 2011
09:26 PM ET

China Syndrome meets Wall Street at Foggy Bottom

Photo by Elise Labott/CNN

By Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott

In the 1970s thriller “The China Syndrome,” Michael Douglas plays a maverick cameraman who helps discover safety cover-ups at a nuclear plant.  In doing so, he comes face to face with the worst-case scenario: a nuclear meltdown where components of a nuclear reactor melt through to the core of the earth "all the way to China."

Though it was a work of fiction, the story gave rise to a decades-long passion for disarmament.  As a United Nations Messenger for Peace since 1988, Douglas has used his star power to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons and nonproliferation of small arms.

For the past nine years Douglas has been on the board of the Ploughshares Fund, a San Francisco-based think tank working on behalf of a world without nuclear weapons.

On Tuesday, he stopped by the State Department to what he called "get the lay of the land" on nuclear issues and to voice concern about new drumbeats about military action against Iran over its nuclear program. FULL POST

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