The Hollywood-Military-Intelligence Complex
Our first attempts to understand the influence of various institutions and individuals on our world, has focused on the education system, the establishment media, and Big Tech firms. Each of these pieces of the Pyramid of Power have an immense influence on the minds and decisions of people around the world. However, no other institution may have the impact of the U.S. Film Industry.
As we outlined in Chapter 2, the U.S. intelligence communities have largely infected and influenced mainstream establishment media since the 1950’s. This frightening trend continues with the relationship between the film industry and the U.S. military and Central Intelligence Agency.
In the early 20th century, film studios began centering their efforts around southern California in the area that would come to be known as Hollywood. From the outset, the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community developed an interest in using the film industry as a method for shaping public opinion. Some of the first collaborations between Hollywood and the U.S. military involved pro-World War 2 propaganda films like Winning Your Wings.
During WW2, the U.S. Office of War Information opened the Bureau of Motion Pictures to further their relationships with Hollywood. Between 1942 and 1945 this Bureau reviewed more than 1,600 scripts, and revised or abandoned projects that portrayed the U.S. government in a bad light.
According to Tanner Mirrlees, an associate professor of communication at Ontario Tech University, and author of Hearts and Mines: The U.S. Empire’s Culture Industry, the former head of the Office of War Information, Elmer Davis stated,
“The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize they’re being propagandized.”
Other historic examples of propaganda in film include the John Wayne film The Green Berets. The film was made after Wayne personally requested U.S. President Lyndon Johnson help him make a propaganda film about the Vietnam war. The Pentagon not only provided access to equipment and military bases, but they also retained final script approval. Most disturbing is the fact that the film depicted the North Vietnamese committing violent atrocities which in reality were committed by American soldiers. This is yet another example of the U.S. government and Hollywood shaping reality for the ignorant mass consumer.
The U.S. military is not the only government agency to develop a close relationship with Hollywood. From its founding in 1947, the U.S. CIA was involved in shaping the direction of films in a way that portrayed the agency in a positive manner or sought to remove negative associations. The CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, had already developed a knack for Hollywood films that glorified the work of the agency with films like O.S.S. and Cloak and Dagger.
After WW2, the Department of Defense developed the first “Entertainment Liaison Offices” to act as conduits for U.S. government messaging to Hollywood studios. The CIA did not publicly establish a similar office until 1996. Much of the partnership between Hollywood and the government centered around authorizing the use of military locations and access to equipment, in exchange for giving the government some level of control over the final scripts.
Researcher Tom Secker uncovered a 1958 memo on “Films for Counterintelligence Training” involving screenings of the films, The Man Who Never Was and Walk East on Beacon. The memo makes it clear that some of the Hollywood films were being used to train new recruits.
Secker has also helped reveal other astounding connections between the entertainment industry and the intelligence community. In 1996, a CIA officer named Chase Brandon was hired to work directly with Hollywood studios to rehabilitate the agencies image. Chase Brandon is also the first cousin of actor Tommy Lee Jones.
“We’ve always been portrayed erroneously as evil and Machiavellian,” Brandon told The Guardian. “It took us a long time to support projects that portray us in the light we want to be seen in.”
Some of Chase Brandon’s work involves well known films like the 2002 Tom Clancy political thriller The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck. The CIA gave Affleck and the film makers a personal tour of CIA headquarters and provided access to analysts. Chase Brandon visited the set to provide advice. He was also a regular on the set of tv show Alias, starring Affleck’s then-wife Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, an undercover CIA agent. Garner would go on to film a promotional video for the CIA.
In 2017, Tom Secker and Matthew Alford, professor at University of Bath, released their book National Security Cinema providing conclusive evidence of the massive influence the U.S. intelligence and military have exerted on Hollywood. The book is based on files obtained via open records requests which detail how the Department of Defense offered support to more than 800 films between 1911 and 2017.
These films include some of the biggest pictures of their time: Transformers, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission: Impossible, and The Terminator. The research of Alford and Secker shows that 7 of the top 10 highest-grossing film franchises of all time have benefited from Department of Defense and CIA support, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Bond and The Fast and the Furious.
When it comes to the Transformers franchise, the DOD paid the filmmakers to gain “very early influence over the scripts” by giving them the most military assistance in filmmaking history, including “twelve types of Air Force aircraft and troops from four different bases.”
National Security Cinema also details how more than 1,100 tv productions received backing from the Pentagon. The vast majority of these took place after 9/11, including Flight 93, Ice Road Truckers, Army Wives, 24, Homeland, and The Agency. The CIA has helped with around 60 film and TV productions since 1947.
In 2017, Matthew Alford concluded:
“When we include individual episodes for long running shows like 24, Homeland, and NCIS, as well as the influence of other major organisations like the FBI and White House, we can establish unequivocally for the first time that the national security state has supported thousands of hours of entertainment,”
The practice of military or intelligence advisors on Hollywood films is more common than the average consumer of film might realize. In fact, even famed CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou made a living on the side by advising Hollywood. Kiriakou served on a board made up of former C.I.A. officers, diplomats, and F.B.I. agents, who reviewed scripts about spies or terrorism to make them more realistic.
However, the relationship is not simply about advising film makers about how to paint the U.S. government in a favorable light. At the heart of it, the relationship helps reinforce so-called “national security” interests, as well as shape public opinion on historical events.
According to the documents, the U.S. government has influenced movies in three distinct eras: 1943-1965, 1966-1986 and 1986 to the present. In the first era, films versions of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 were directly affected by the CIA. During this period, a man named Luigi Luraschi was the head of censorship at Paramount Studios where he was in regular contact with an anonymous individual at the CIA.
The purpose of the contact was to inform the CIA of the studios’ ability and desire to change movies to meet U.S. government expectations. For example, a 1955 film, Strategic Air Command, was changed so Americans did not appear as “a lot of trigger-happy warmongering people.”
In 1986, Top Gun started the modern era of military and intelligence influence in Hollywood films. The film served as a successful promotional film for the US Navy with enlistment for naval aviators jumping 500 percent. The authors of National Security Cinema believe this success caused the CIA to update its strategy for influencing the public via films.
A list of films which received advice and/or support – as well as script changes – includes:
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
The Recruit (2003)
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
The Interview (2014)
The Kingdom (2007)
Lone Survivor (2013)
Rules of Engagement (2000)
In 2016, professor Tricia Jenkins published leaked private memos as part of her book The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television. These memos and other memos show that, among others, the Osama bin Laden assassination movie Zero Dark Thirty and the film Argo, were heavily influenced by government officials to make the government look impressive or to downplay their mistakes.
As part of the arrangement with the makers of Argo, Ben Affleck was allowed to visit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Other actors who have visited spy HQ include Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise, Dan Aykroyd, Dean Cain, Will Smith, Claire Danes, Kevin Bacon, Patrick Stewart and Mike Myers.
The most recent example of the U.S. military seeking to influence the public’s perception via films came in early 2021 when it was revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps played an integral role in the development of James Cameron’s Avatar. Nearly 1,700 pages of documents released by the Corps’ entertainment media liaison office show this relationship in action. An April 2009 report details how Hollywood liaison officers “met with director/writer James Cameron”.
Avatar was interpreted by some critics as an anti-war film, using the alien planet as a metaphor for the U.S. military’s treatment of indigenous Americans or Iraqis. However, the documents reveal that the military viewed the film as a propaganda success, including having entertainment liaison officers invited to speak on a military panel at Comic Con in 2011. The military liked the film so much they arranged screenings on military bases and had actors and producers participate in a Navy Entertainment Program visit.
Despite this wealth of information that is now available, the public is still largely in the dark about the true extent of military and intelligence involvement in the film industry. Matthew Alford has said the Marine Corps admitted there are 90 boxes of relevant material in its archive. “The government has seemed especially careful to avoid writing down details of actual changes made to scripts in the 21st century.”
What is important to take note of is the power of film and tv to shape public opinion. Researcher Tricia Jenkins notes that one of the reasons the CIA and military desire to be involved in major films like Zero Dark Thirty is because they recognize that the public will largely form their opinions of real world events based on the fictional Hollywood retelling.
In December 2019 former CIA officer turned Democrat Representative Elissa Slotkin was questioned about her favorite CIA films and she candidly acknowledged that CIA was “helping Hollywood” understand the truth about the CIA.
“Some movies are just total craziness and don’t represent reality at all. Actually, the CIA has a whole office that will help Hollywood understand how to portray what really goes on.”
Sometimes script changes requested by the government can be subtle, like when Tricia Jenkins says the US government requested the script for the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day be changed so that the protagonists worked for the military rather than as civilians. The change is slight, but the message being delivered to the public is powerful: the military, the U.S. government – they are the heroes. They are to be trusted and idolized. These films can reinforce the narrative that the U.S. government and its various agencies are the authorities that care about us and can do no wrong.
If the public continues to consume television and film without understanding the U.S. military and spy agencies played a role in the finished product they will continue to be influenced and miseducated under the guise of watching harmless entertainment.
Solutions: Unplug from the Hollywood-Military-Intelligence-Complex
The solutions to the Hollywood-Military-Intelligence-Complex are simple. The easiest solution for those who seek to cleanse their minds of potential propaganda from the U.S. military, intelligence agencies and other pieces of the Pyramid of Power is to simply unplug. Unplug from Hollywood-Military-Intelligence-Complex by refusing to consume their propaganda. This might be extreme for some people, but for others, it will be the appropriate solution.
At the very least, take time to become the one in control of your heart and mind. To do this you must begin to question your assumptions and knowledge. Stop to ask yourself how much of your worldview has been consciously or subconsciously shaped by what you have witnessed on television and in movies since you were a child. The more you dig and probe, you might come to realize that Hollywood has been shaping our thoughts since most of us were children and watched our first Disney movie.
For example, maybe your perspective on how a mother and father are supposed to interact was heavily influenced by the sitcoms you watched as a child. Or perhaps, your view on how a couple are supposed to act when they fall in love, or what clothes and styles and music are popular – were all shaped by the images flashed before your eyes on the small and big screens.
The point is, the more in tune you are with your own preferences and thoughts, the more you can consume this content with a skeptical eye. This doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a movie or tv show again, but it does mean you are better served by watching with discernment rather than blindly soaking it up.If we aim to be free from propaganda aimed at feeding us a biased version of history, culture, or simply selling us a product, we must take steps to reclaim our hearts and minds. By making this effort we can be free from the Hollywood propaganda, the Big Tech censorship, the establishment media, and the state run education system.
To continue your research into this topic we recommend reading National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood and The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television by Tricia Jenkins.