Spy Truth & Fiction — The Equalizer Gets Some Things Right

By Piper Bayard

The Equalizer is a thriller film by Antoine Fuqua in which an ex-CIA operative must defeat the Russian mob to save his friend. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a widower who has left his former life of intelligence fieldwork. He keeps a simple life as a supervisor at Home Mart in Boston. Each night, his insomnia drives him to a corner diner with a classic book, where he chats with Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who is pimped out by the Russian mob. When Alina is brutally beaten and hospitalized by the Russians, McCall determines he will prevent her keepers from ever hurting her again. His decision triggers a series of events that lead to Moscow and to one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs.

 

The Equalizer Movie Poster

The Equalizer Movie Poster

 

Though this movie is not intended to be a documentary, it gets several Truth & Fiction aspects right.

One: Robert McCall is a former CIA operative.

Intelligence operatives get to resign or retire if they want to. There is a grand myth in some spy fiction that intelligence organizations are like the mafia—that once you’re in, there’s only one way to leave, as in to die. Unlike James Bond, who will outlive all other intelligence operatives on the planet, CIA operatives, active or past, actually do eventually all die of the same causes that afflict the rest of the human population. However, the Company does not put out a hit on operatives who decides to strike out in other directions, regardless of how many secrets they may know.

Two: Robert McCall is a man who wears jeans and plain button up shirts.

While some former intelligence operatives might wear leather clothing and ride motorcycles, it is not required. In fact, most people who are confident that they can kill you with their pinkies prefer to appear as innocuous as possible. Life is just more comfortable for everyone that way.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

Three: Robert McCall works as a supervisor at “Home Mart.”

Except for congressmen, no one gets rich by working for the government. That includes intelligence operatives. As a result, when they leave, most of them must find other gainful employment, and that might be anything from selling used cars to teaching high school to assisting people with their lumber purchases at a home improvement store.

Four: Robert McCall does not rely entirely on firearms to kill the bad guys.

One of the best parts of this movie is the creative way McCall kills off his opponents. A large showdown takes place inside a home improvement center. While our hero unrealistically passes on the obvious opportunity to pick up a few heavy firearms from the skumbags he kills, his creativity in killing with common store items is worth the price of admission. Through the entire movie, he lays out approximately two dozen bad guys, but he only shoots one of them with a firearm.

 

Robert McCall and Alina Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall and Alina
Image from The Equalizer

 

Five:  Robert McCall is in control.

Operatives certainly have their bad days, and sometimes they end up in situations that are beyond their control. But, as Holmes says, “If you’re in a fair fight, you’re using poor tactics.” In every situation, our hero in The Equalizer has the upper hand.

It’s worth noting that this control is actually a negative when it comes to sustaining tension. At no time is the viewer genuinely worried that McCall won’t survive an encounter in order to collect his paycheck and do another movie. However, he is so creative in how he maintains control that this doesn’t sink the film.

Six:  Robert McCall dedicates himself to his chosen mission simply because he believes it is the right thing to do.

As a general rule, American intelligence operatives are an idealistic lot who devote themselves to their professions because they want to make the world a better place for innocent people to reside. No one does it for the money.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

 Seven:  The evil kingpin behaves like an evil kingpin when cornered.

The Russian mobster at the top of the international crime food chain is aptly named Vladimir Pushkin. (All similarities to any living Russian oligarch are, no doubt, purely coincidental.) We see very little of Putin Pushkin, but where we do see him, he is behaving realistically, exhibiting disbelief that anyone would actually kill him, combined with the confidence that he can buy his way out of the situation.

 

Overall, The Equalizer is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that impressed me with its creativity. Denzel Washington is excellent in his role as the man people turn to when they have nowhere else to go. Chloë Grace Moretz does a great job breaking out of her Kick Ass role to show a bit more diversity. And of course, who doesn’t want to see a Russian mobster named Vladimir Pushkin get what’s coming to him? If you enjoy thrillers and justice movies, you will likely enjoy this one.

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We are pleased to announce that our first Bayard & Holmes spy thriller novella, THE SPY BRIDE, will be released in the RISKY BRIDES bestsellers’ collection on October 21 from Magnolia Press.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Front Cover via Hightail

5 Espionage Myths — The November Man

 

By Piper Bayard

 

The November Man movie poster

The November Man movie poster

 

The November Man is an espionage movie in which an ex-CIA operative is brought back by the Company for a personal mission in Moscow, only to find himself pitted against his protégé. It is a fast action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey that rockets viewers through the Russian and Serbian shadow world with everything from brutal assassins to rogue top-level operatives. It is also a comprehensive collection of espionage myths.

 

Myth One – CIA operatives are all ready and willing to off their own at any given moment just because a bureaucrat orders it.

Truth – US intelligence operatives are not murderous automatons who blindly kill whomever they are told to, up to and including their mentors and protégés.

 

It was common in Stalin’s KGB for Soviet operatives to kill each other. In fact, the KGB had a special branch for the express purpose of targeting fellow agents. However, such pointless slaughter has never been part of the US intelligence culture. Americans don’t put up with that crap. Presidents come and go with their various agendas, and long after they are booking their lecture tours and cutting ribbons on their presidential libraries, operatives are still on the job. Our intelligence community consists of flesh and blood human beings who would not live long if they didn’t question and comprehend their missions. They are not slovenly attack dogs to be released on any target that a transient bureaucratic overlord decides is inconvenient to their political goals, particularly when that target is one of their own.

 

Myth Two – Operatives think nothing of killing innocent people.

Truth – People who randomly kill innocents are serial killers and criminal psychopaths, not highly trained intelligence operatives.

 

Killing is serious business, and the intelligence community has had standing orders for decades to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. An operative who randomly kills innocent people would be quickly weeded out. Such behavior is unacceptable in the intelligence community.

 

Myth Three – Operatives can’t have families.

Truth – Operatives, like anyone else, can have loved ones and families that they adore.

 

While it is true that many field operatives are either single or divorced, that is due to the nature of the job and not to any taboo about bonding with other humans. The fact is that few spouses are up for, “I need to go. Can’t say where. Can’t say when I’ll be home. Sorry, but I can’t leave you a number, either.” The lifestyle is very hard on relationships, and spouses must be as committed to leading the double life as the operative is. Not many are, and they are not to blame for that. However, as my writing partner proves, some do sustain marriages and family ties for decades.

 

Myth Four – People can be killers, or they can love, but they can’t do both.

Truth – Dedicated operatives often go into the field because they DO love.

 

The notion that someone who is trained to kill the likes of Bin Laden can’t love is patently absurd. Many operatives go into the field because they are unwilling to sit still and do nothing while brutal despots butcher innocent people.

 

Myth Five – Assassins look like assassins.

Truth – Assassins look like the school secretary, the grocery store manager, the bank teller, the janitor, or anyone else who can blend in with a crowd.

 

It is not required for operatives to speak in foreign accents and wear either tailored business suits or black leather.

 

Russian Assassin from The November Man

Russian Assassin from The November Man

 

 

While not a common myth, another notable fiction in The November Man is the notion that bullets from handguns travel at four times the speed of sound . . . Excuse me? A handgun? More like a hand held rocket launcher. Clearly, Hollywood is holding out on the Navy.

 

If you care nothing for accuracy about espionage or human nature in your spy thrillers, then go ahead and spend the $13 and enjoy Pierce Brosnan doing what he does best. However, if you do know anything at all about firearms, operatives, psychology, history, NATO, or intelligence work, this movie will make your head explode at a velocity of four times the speed of sound.

NSA: Hoarders, Cheaters, Dr. Phil, or Jerry Springer? You Decide.

By Piper Bayard

“Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.” ~ Hoarders

At this point, we know the following about the NSA and its electronic data collection on Americans and foreigners:

  • First and foremost, the NSA is not acting in a vacuum. The basic purpose of intelligence agencies is to gather information . . . not for themselves, but for the policy makers. Their actions must be authorized and funded by the White House and Congress.
  • The NSA, at the behest of the White House and Congress, is unapologetically collecting and storing all of our electronic transmissions—phone calls, banking transactions, grocery purchases, social media posts, social media connections, internet search histories, etc., in the name of “security.”
  • In spite of all of this Extreme Security, they couldn’t pinpoint two deadbeats with a hotline to Chechnya Jihad Central who were Facebooking and Tweeting their jihadi hafla across the Cyberverse.

What does this tell us? The NSA has so many ones and zeros stacked up on us that it can no longer tell fact from fiction, or terrorist from law-abiding citizen. It has at this point collected so much hay in the barn that it can no longer find the threatening needle, or even the barn.

Actual photo of NSA data storage

Actual photo of NSA data storage

So I’m wondering . . . Do we need to send the Hoarders crew to NSA headquarters to help them sort out this dysfunction? Or do we just need to fire them all and put the crew of Cheaters in charge of figuring out who needs surveilling, and who doesn’t?

Come on over to our new site, and help me walk the NSA through a 12-Step Program. Please bring your comments — we love your comments — over to the new site, and remember to subscribe when you get there. We want to bring you all with us!

Bayard & Holmes

NSA:  Hoarders, Cheaters, Dr. Phil, or Jerry Springer? You Decide.

New US Outreach Program — Spooks without Boundaries

By Piper Bayard

First it was the NSA peeking up our digital skirts, illegally collecting and storing raw intelligence on Americans to paw through at will. Then the other four of the Five Eyes—Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada—crowded up for a glimpse. Now I find out that Israel has its cameras under our hemlines, as well. When I consider how many other as-yet-to-be-revealed countries must be signed up for the Big NSA Raw Giveaway, I wonder if America unwittingly wandered onto the set of “Criminal Minds” during Rampant Voyeurs Week.  But as our government so glibly tells us, if we wear our Sponge Bob undies like a good little girls and boys, we have nothing to worry about.

Internet bugs Canstock

I know what you’re thinking—those World Order Conspiracy theorists just might be onto something, after all. Why else would our American government ditch the warrant system to illegally collect our own citizens’ electronic transmissions and share them with all of their corporate and political friends—none of whom loves us enough to help us hide the bodies? That’s the behavior of a bad boyfriend with a revenge porn account.

I don’t blame you one bit for that train of thought. But rest assured! You’ll be glad to know I did some checking with non-existent sources and found out nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, I’m betting you’ll feel as pleased with our government as I am when you hear the details.

Our government leaders, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, noticed that giving out candy bars in war zones somehow didn’t win America the Miss Congeniality prize they so coveted in the World Image Competition. They hired three out-of-work Carnival cruise directors, a retired circus clown, and the hostess from the local Hooters to get together and figure out what would make us more popular on the world stage. Their innovative solution is already rocking the planet.

These brilliant out-of-the-box thinkers looked to Doctors Without Borders and No Child Left Behind as guidelines and developed a new, all-inclusive friendship outreach program that proves America is now willing to put out for anyone who gives her an “I love you” and a promise of respect in the morning. The folks in D.C. and in the NSA have proudly dubbed it “Spooks Without Boundaries.” Their motto? No Country Left Behind!

The new program is rooted in the same fundamental progressive notion that makes Obamacare so successful—the conviction that candidates win votes with overblown promises of physical comfort and security. And why shouldn’t every government have the same illegal access to our phone calls and electronic transactions that our own government has? After all, if all of this intimate surveillance of Americans is keeping us safe—except from a couple of deadbeat potheads with a hotline to Chechnya Jihad Central—isn’t it only compassionate that we share this universal safety with those electronically less fortunate? Why should outdated Cold War ethnocentrism, phobia of al-Qaeda and its wannabes, or the rogue Israeli faction attack on the USS Liberty* affect our foreign policy decisions? With Spooks Without Boundaries, everyone, citizen or not, will be safe, because every government will have access to the personal transactions and communications of Americans.

World Hug Canstock

With all of this free love going around, it has me wondering how long it will be before the NSA starts to share a little of it with America. After all, if Americans are so willing to toss off their privacy rights in the name of safety, why not give state and local police access to the benefits of PRISM and the other NSA toys? It would be nothing to track down meth labs, underage drinkers, and deadbeat dads, not to mention felons and bail jumpers. Why should Israel, the Five Eyes, and untold others enjoy that level of knowledge about us when we don’t?

And why stop there? The NSA is already swapping info with their BFFs, the international corporations. Why not small businesses, too? Just think how useful PRISM would be to collection agents, private eyes hired to track cheating spouses, or marketing firms sending targeted ads just for you. If we’ve already decimated American privacy in the name of homeland security, how long will it be before we enjoy the safety inherent in giving all of our information to our local police and small businesses?

Spooks Without Boundaries—it’s not just for foreign terrorists anymore! Write to your congressmen today and tell them you want Americans to enjoy the same free love we give to Israel, our allies, and others. After all, if we’re going to pass out tickets to foreign countries to peep at our privates, shouldn’t we see them ourselves?

* Recently declassified documents indicate that a rogue element of the Israeli government orchestrated the 1967 attack on the USS Liberty.

Related Articles:

British Spy Agency Taps Cables, Shares with US NSA (Info on Five Eyes)

U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data with Thousands of Firms

NSA Shares Raw Intelligence Including Americans’ Data with Israel

NSA and Israeli Intelligence: Memorandum of Understanding—Full Document

What Makes US-Israeli Intelligence Co-operation “Exceptional”?

Life in the Cold

By Piper Bayard

Independence Day was not the end of our fight for freedom, but only the beginning. Most of the men who signed our Declaration of Independence lost their fortunes and their lives in the battle. It is a battle that has been fought by each generation since 1776, as freedom is a great responsibility that we must continually earn, and not something bought and paid for once in the past that we can now take for granted.

My generation is the Cold War generation. This Independence Day, I would honor those of the intelligence community who served quietly, often giving everything to protect us from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The following is an excerpt from “From Inside the Cold War,” written by my writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” who is a veteran of that conflict. A conflict which, in spite of the wishful thinking and historical ignorance of younger politicians, continues in a very real way to this day. In it, he gives us a window into his world and what it is like for him and his compatriots to walk through ours.

Anonymous Man Canstock

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From the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Soviet government in Russia in 1991, Western nations faced off with the Soviet Union and its allies and captive satellite states in what became known as the “Cold War.” Basically, the Soviet Union, led by the ruthless Joseph Stalin, felt that it was its duty to spread communism throughout the world, while Western nations governed by democracies felt it was their responsibility to keep the entire world from falling under Soviet domination. . . .

Most Western citizens think of the Cold War as being without casualties, except during the proxy wars in Korea and Viet Nam. Few Westerners will even remember that the allied nations fought a war against Soviet-backed communists in Greece from 1946 -1949, or that the United Kingdom struggled with a communist guerrilla war in Malaysia until 1960. Beyond the publicly acknowledged battle fields in Korea, South East Asia, Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama, the United States thus far acknowledges 382 American servicemen killed in combat against communist forces between 1945 and 1991. This figure does not include the officially acknowledged civilian losses of the CIA and other civilian personnel, nor does it include the deaths of “denied” personnel working under “deep cover.”

I believe the figure of 382 to be wildly low and a long, smoldering debate is currently underway in DOD and CIA circles concerning casualty figures during the Cold War. It is unclear how they should be counted and how much information should be released. After a lifetime of living in a necessary state of denial, “old hands” have well-founded fears about releasing too much information. For one thing, releasing dates and locations of deaths will assist belligerent parties in identifying and killing those who assisted US efforts. Our word was given that our friends would never be exposed, and they never should be.

For nearly four decades, the deaths of American Cold War combatants were explained away as accidents and sudden acute illnesses. Wives and mothers buried their husbands and sons without ever knowing what happened. The battlefield deaths of most of America’s Cold War combatants will likely remain unrecognized for years to come in order to protect the living. Some day, if a future generation gets around to dealing with the information, it will likely seem too distant for anyone to pay much attention to it. This is a natural consequence of the type of battles fought.

If it seems sad, we should remember that it is far less sad than the alternatives would have been. Armageddon was avoided. Freedom was not lost. That matters, at least to me and to those who have gone before me. My brothers paid a price. I knew none who were unwilling to pay that price quietly. None can now regain their lives by being identified.

When we review espionage activities from the Cold War, it is easy to take an academic view. If the seriousness of some of the participants seems almost comical from our current perspective, they seemed far less humorous at the time that they occurred. The events seem distant now, and the causes may have been forgotten by many, and never understood by some. I point out the issue of casualties in an attempt to describe an important aspect of clandestine activities during the Cold War. The contestants on all sides played for keeps.

Between the bright lights of international diplomacy and the dark cloud of the threat of nuclear war, life in the shadows in between was a bit different. Some of us feel as though we have lived in a parallel world far away from this one. We walked through this world every day, careful not to leave too many footprints here on our way to somewhere else. That other world became our home. This world where we trust our neighbors and love our children, is the world that we desperately wanted to see remain intact. But in a sense, we will always be visitors here in this world that we hold so dear. For some of us, our home remains somewhere else, far away.

~ Jay Holmes

Two Worlds Canstock

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From our world to your world, Holmes, thank you.

PRISM — You Can’t Stop the Signal

By Piper Bayard

In one of my favorite Joss Wheden movies, Serenity, the crew of a small scavenger space ship, Firefly, risks everything to bring the truth to the people of the Alliance about how their government was lying to them and screwing them over. To do this, they transmitted a damning recording across every media outlet in the galaxy. For them, it worked, because, “You can’t stop the signal.”

image from Serenity

image from Serenity

What the movie did not show was what happened after the broadcast, which was most likely a lot of huffing and puffing from diverse quadrants, and then a mass forgetting the next time some celebrity choose a freakish baby name. What it didn’t show was how many people do not care what a government does, as long as they can believe it doesn’t affect them.

Which brings me to a far more relevant pop culture analogy—Game of Thrones. I don’t know if Edward Snowden watched either Serenity or Game of Thrones, but if he had watched or read the latter, he would have known that the honorable man who brings the truth to a nation is always the first to lose his head.

Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes, my writing partner, is no Edward Snowden. He is not disappointed in the Obama administration because he has been through enough presidents to not expect anything from them in the first place. Also, he never reveals anything Classified at any level; however, he does at times know what is true of what is public.

That being said, this is the information from the public domain that I would pass on to you, our readers.

The NSA has direct access to the servers of the PRISM Nine. (See PRISM Surveillance on Americans—What Price Convenience?) I’ve seen many people commenting around the net that they don’t care that the NSA knows what Google knows. After all, everyone knows the internet isn’t private. To those people, I would point out two things. First, Google doesn’t have an FBI and a DHS to arrest us. And second, the NSA reach does not stop at the voluntary information we give to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and the rest. It also includes our emails, bank transactions, credit card purchases, phone records and the very content of the calls, themselves.

All of this data is collected and analyzed for red flags. Like someone going through our “Electronic Footprint House” on a continual basis, looking for missteps. If an analyst suspects any, he can listen to specific conversations and read specific emails without obtaining a warrant specific to us. In fact, in Mr. Snowden’s words, “The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as “incidental” collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications . . .”

image from weknowmemes.com

image from weknowmemes.com

There is one notable exception to this illegal invasion of privacy. Members of Congress have a special exemption from NSA surveillance. Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? If the NSA isn’t spying on Americans, why would Congress need an exemption from the spying they’re not doing?

Not only is this data collected and stored on all Americans and subject to viewing at the whim of an analyst, it is exchanged with foreign countries. The Five Eyes—the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—have agreements in place between their intelligence agencies to share information on each other’s citizens.

This begs another question. Why would we spend money to illegally spy on our allies’ citizens? We are not at war with these people any more than we are at war with ourselves.

Sure, there are some maggots in those countries, just as there are some maggots in our own. Our Founding Fathers understood and accepted the fact that some maggots need to be spied on. However, they also understood that it was important to prevent the government from spying on its citizens without cause if we were to avoid devolving into tyranny. This dilemma was easily solved. It’s called a “warrant system.”

The requirement of obtaining a warrant does not in any way hinder intelligence and law enforcement agencies from acting in a timely fashion. Judges are available to approve warrants 24/7, 365 days a year. The judge’s staff then follows up with a paper document.

This procedure allows police and domestic intelligence operatives, such as the DHS, to act promptly while employing standard safeguards. The judicial system keeps records of what is requested and why. Eventually, any warrants issued for domestic eavesdropping became public knowledge. The warrant system prevents, or at least minimizes, abuse by elected officials and government employees while respecting the constitutional rights of Americans to enjoy reasonable privacy.

PRISM, however, has no such protections. The NSA eavesdrops with no judicial process, and citizens are not informed of the surveillance unless they commit felonies and are arrested. That means no accountability to the people. Think about it. A government that holds citizens responsible to it without a process in place for citizens to hold the government responsible to them is not a government by or for the people.

And it doesn’t stop there . . .

Eighteen days ago, when I first wrote about this Big Brother surveillance of Americans, I posed the following questions:

1)    Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection?

2)    Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors?

Only days later, it became public knowledge that, indeed, there is an information exchange between our government and private corporations. You heard that correctly. Thousands of companies—finance, manufacturing, technology, etc.—receive benefits from the federal government in exchange for sensitive information about their clientele.

Having naïvely agreed to travel from Hong Kong to Ecuador via Moscow, Edward Snowden finds himself in Putin’s hands. For Putin, this is Christmas. For Edward Snowden, he might as well be Eddard Stark in the dungeons of King’s Landing. His winter is here, and when it comes to privacy protections in America, “Winter is Coming.”

meme by bizarrojerri.wordpress.com

meme by bizarrojerri.wordpress.com

We have seen time and again that technology, once developed, does not undevelop. You can’t stop the signal. However, we can choose how we will use it. Like nuclear weapons, the horse is out of the barn, but with careful controls and regulations, we have not used those nuclear weapons in nearly seventy years. Just because we have a tool, it doesn’t mean we have to use it in careless or evil ways.

Rather than calling for a shut-down of PRISM and its use, which would only create a more sophisticated government mouse, let us instead insist on understanding the unprecedented power of this program and treat it with the respect that it deserves. Let us instead focus this power toward the true enemies—not average Americans, but those who would terrorize and destroy us. Let us not do the job for them by continuing to turn this potentially devastating power on ourselves.

Penultimate Irony

Ultimate Irony

Chinese Theft and Hacking in the News — Where Lies the Blame?

By Jay Holmes

Headlines this week are reporting the not-very-new “news” that China is—drumroll and sound track of gasping readers please—stealing US technology and hacking into classified US government computer systems. A secondary aspect of the story focuses on daily denials by China. So is China really stealing US technology? If it is, then what does it mean to us US taxpayers and consumers? What does it mean to our allies and their well-bled taxpayers and highly unemployed consumers?

Stealing Data Canstock

Let’s first consider this “news” from the Chinese side of the issue.  Chinese denials are generally orated in monotone fashion by one highly placed spin doctor or another with even less acting skill than the average D.C. government mouthpiece. The denials, themselves, are always about as convincing as those issued by well-paid celebrity lawyers defending their highly privileged clients.

In China, as in Hollywood or D.C., reasonable observers start with the assumption that the spokesman is a well-practiced, lying crook. They then try to extract some grain of truth from the transparently nonsensical denials being issued. In the case of Chinese government spin doctors, the only truth available from them is the simple truth that they have no need to or intention of ever telling the truth about anything to anyone. They don’t have to. Or at least have never had to until recently.

Different cultures view truth-telling in different ways, and in the Chinese culture, telling the truth to the world at large is considered a form of severe naiveté bordering on mental illness. Add to that the fact that China has never had a government that answered to the Chinese people. As a result, in Chinese government culture, the rare and refined art of telling the truth is about as useful as space heaters in a Congolese home. In a Western context, one might imagine how weasel-like White House and Whitehall spokesmen would become if their masters and their masters’ masters never had to face the expense of another election campaign.

And yet there is one group of listeners that the Chinese find more complex and difficult to deal with—the world’s non-Chinese consumers. The Chinese have figured out that while the thoughts and opinions of their own well-policed prisoner-citizens can be easily dismissed or silenced, the image of the Chinese communist police state now matters to the Chinese oligarchy for financial reasons.

China makes trillions of dollars from Western consumers and Western corporations. As the image of the Chinese government rises and falls from the depths of the public opinion sewer, profits rise and fall. Western consumers buy cheap Chinese junk with the same enthusiasm that heroin addicts demonstrate in their methadone lines. But even with the severity of the West’s addiction to low-priced Chinese garbage, sales can and do rise and fall. A small movement in sales levels represents billions of dollars in lost revenue to the economic warlords that now run China.

What if a Chinese nouveau riche politician is considering buying another Caribbean island or US skyscraper, and his profits drop? What if he and his pals desperately need to rent some Western politicians to do their bidding, and the cash flow takes a dive? To those few people in China who are used to getting anything they want when they want it, that would be annoying. That threat of annoyance inspires Chinese devotion to keeping those revenue bumps from happening.

Predictably, the Chinese have recently switched from routinely denying that anyone in China ever would or could hack a computer, steal technology, or violate a patent, to doing the old “shoulder shrug” response. They are now saying “all governments hack other countries’ computers.” And, of course, they’re not quite right. Not all governments hack other countries’ computers. Only governments with the required resources do that. And furthermore, not all governments ignore patent violations. China does.

Now that we’ve had a laugh considering China’s denials, let’s consider the “hacking” from a Western perspective. China’s routine theft of US technology makes Western companies less competitive in the giant sludge pit that we call “the world market.” That means higher unemployment leading to higher tax rates to help the unemployed, which in turn makes the West still less competitive in the world marketplace.

As well as commercial technology, the Chinese hacking efforts also focus on US military secrets, including advanced weapons design. This means that China gets to develop their advanced weapons, such as their stealth fighter or their drones, without the expense of years of scientific research or the subsequent thousands of engineering hours that lead to lots of engineers having strokes and their employers eventually delivering a useful product. It also means that our weapons systems are less useful as deterrents to Chinese imperial aims.

In Maoist times, the Chinese military only needed to be well-enough equipped and trained to keep the Chinese people obedient to Mao. The most important characteristic of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was obedience to Mao. The emphasis was not on developing a highly skilled, powerful military, but rather a highly obedient one.

In 1978, Viet Nam invaded Laos and Cambodia to overthrow their Chinese-backed governments. In 1979, after yearlong logistical preparations, China confidently invaded Viet Nam. After China’s logistical support for its invading army collapsed, they were forced to withdraw from Viet Nam.

The Chinese military leadership has wanted to do two things since that 1979 disaster. One, it has wanted to continue using its control of the Chinese military and Chinese military industries to acquire personal wealth. In this it has excelled fantastically. In the post-Maoist era they need not hide their profits. They don’t. Their second concern has been to become a more powerful military capable of conquering someone other than themselves. They needed science and technology to do that.

The Chinese suffered decades of “cultural revolution” that included purges of “intellectuals” that would have made even Stalin jealous. The problem with killing all those nasty, opinionated university types, though, is that nobody was left to develop technology. As a result, stealing science and technology became a huge imperative for the Chinese government in the post-Mao age.

Now that China has avoided the routine random slaughter of university professors for a few decades, they have a powerful and effective scientific/engineering community, but that community remains hamstrung by government agencies that are so corrupt that they make Western governments appear to be honest and efficient by comparison. So stealing technology and military secrets remains a priority for China. In fact, it remains a priority for all governments that have the ability to effectively spy.

It’s easy to get angry at the Chinese for being the thieving crooks that they are, but let’s be realistic a moment. The Chinese would give us the standard Chinese answer to that indignation. They would—and frequently do—laugh at us for being so stupid as to allow ourselves to get robbed. In this, they are right.

Most of the Western corporations that whine about the Chinese hacking their computer systems and stealing their technologies have factories in China manned by Chinese employees. While unemployment remains depressingly high in Western nations, these same Western corporations are building yet more factories in China.  Wondering where all your GM bailout cash went? It went to building factories and research centers in communist China. No need for the Chinese to steal GM’s technology. GM gives it to them on a silver platter. And YOU paid for that silver platter!

Whose job is it to secure US military secrets? Is that the job of the Chinese? I don’t think so. Hacking into US intelligence and military networks should not be a “crime.” It should be an impossibility. The fact that it can be done at all is a travesty. Basic compartmentalization to keep top-secret data off of internet systems would prevent that.

So while we listen to the not-so-new news reports about Chinese theft of US technologies and military secrets, we should perhaps not bother questioning China’s spin-doctors. Instead, we should be asking our own government and corporations why it’s happening in the first place.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn — SKYFALL

SKYFALL Review

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

SKYFALL marks the Golden Anniversary of the Bond series, and it’s raking in the serious gold—for good reason. In this 23rd Bond film, M and MI-6 are under attack, and it’s up to 007 to track down and destroy the threat. He does it in style, proving once more that Bond truly is the master of resurrection.

Sam Mendes makes a brilliant directing debut with the series, showing he actually earned all of his Oscars and Tonys for other films over the years. Daniel Craig returns for the third time as Bond, along with Judi Dench playing M, and introducing Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris as Q and Moneypenny, respectively.

Bayard:

From a thriller standpoint, SKYFALL has it all. Fast pace, nail-biting tension, creative chases, and explosions that will warm the heart of twenty-something pyrotechnics lovers. There’s even a tiny snafu that might have you wondering, “Which side was that?” But I suspect that will only end up making the movie more loved for being a bit flawed like the rest of us.

While cutting edge with a modern feel and new, young characters, SKYFALL still honors the classic qualities of Bond. It not only takes us for one more spin in 007’s iconic Aston Martin DB5, it treats us to colorful locales, mysterious people, and even exotic animals. Though I feel compelled to note those komodo dragons must be on a diet of digitally enhanced Twinkies and MLB steroids to get that big.

This 50th Anniversary installment continues to develop the three-dimensional character brought to the fore with the Craig incarnation of the series, and we find out more details of Bond’s early life and home. Only one Bond behavior strikes me as being particularly out of character. He allows his MI-6 co-worker to shave him with an old-fashioned straight razor. A certain spook I know *glances down the page* can barely sit still for his wife of decades to cut his hair. He would rather suck broken glass through a straw up his nose than allow anyone near his throat with a sharp object.

Holmes:

It’s not easy to take an old, worn out basic story line like the “stolen master list” and make a watchable movie out of it after so many have tried and failed, but SKYFALL does it. The entire production is excellent, and this is a great addition to the Bond series.

As to the normal “spy flick” questions, here we go . . .

No, it’s not terribly realistic, but that’s fortunate. Who really wants to watch a bunch of guys in filthy, third world hovels passing long hours trying to get something done? SKYFALL is definitely unrealistic, and that’s why it’s superbly entertaining.

Can you use light sockets to make nail bombs? Yes. But not with the method employed in the movie. So all you middle school boys reading this can leave those light fixtures alone. You’ll only succeed in infuriating your parents without getting any real explosions.

The palm ID feature of Bond’s new Walther will thrill gun control nuts the world over. And yes. Tracking radios that size and smaller do work in the real world. The smallest model would be useless in an action flick because they would need a macro lens shot to show it.

There is a theme throughout SKYFALL of a rift between the old HUMINT (human intelligence) hands and the rest of the intelligence community. In the real world, there are plenty of old spooks. The problem with operatives getting good at the job is that organizations generally don’t want them to leave, and they don’t know how to leave, anyway. The idea that younger spooks see the older spooks and their methods as irrelevant is 99% false. Only politicians and whiny media types do that. I suspect this is just as true in MI-6 as it is in American intelligence organizations.

Now for the negatives. The script is a bit weak in a couple of places, but that’s about the only complaint I have.

The positives are many. The acting ranges from fair to excellent. The camera work and editing are great. I hope the editing crew and directors from BOURNE LEGACY see this movie so they can get an idea of how one might make a movie if one combines intention with talent.

The opening chase scene includes a “drive through the market chase” and a novel “top of the train” scene. I won’t ruin them for you. I’ll just say they are very well done, evidencing a good deal of time and effort.

The fighting and shooting scenes are articulate and reasonable. There were no magic weapons with infinite shots, and there were a couple of original touches I think viewers will enjoy.

In a return to earlier Bond style, SKYFALL delivers craftily woven levity. However, the sex was a notch lower than more traditional Bonds. Sorry guys. The producers skimped on their usual “legions of young woman in small bikinis” device, but there is still plenty of movie here.

The four years we waited for a new Bond film were well used by the entire production cast to create a movie that entertains without the viewer having to try too hard. They ALL got it right.

We highly recommend SKYFALL to anyone who enjoys action films. Few movies will ever achieve this level of production quality. Bravo to the Bond team!

We give SKYFALL a .357 magnum +P rating. This is our second highest rating, and it means we would actually pay prime time theater prices if we could stand the crowd. It only fails to achieve our highest rating, the .44 magnum, because we reserve that for films that might enlighten or inspire some of the viewers. You may not be enlightened or inspired by SKYFALL, but you will almost certainly be entertained.

 

The True Story of the D-Day Spies: Double Cross

By Jay Holmes

DOUBLE CROSS addresses one of the more complex and important intelligence operations of World War Two. It explains how the UK’s MI-5 Counter Intelligence division quite effectively turned and managed German spies in an attempt to deceive Germany about the Allied plans for the invasion of Western Europe in 1944.

The first thing about this book that jumps out is its readability. Great Britain’s operation for running double agents involved many people and many details. The details can be tedious to consider, but without considering enough of them, these operations can’t be reasonably understood. MacIntyre has done a brilliant job of presenting enough details without making the book read like a boring bureaucratic report. I envy his ability to present such a complex and important piece of history in such a readable form.

Good history writers do good research—lots of it—and Ben MacIntyre certainly did his. But he did something else as well. He very skillfully analyzed the collected data and produced an accurate and clear interpretation of the facts. I’ve never met Ben MacIntyre, but if he was never a spook, he should have been one. For us.

In DOUBLE CROSS, McIntyre manages to present personalities from both sides of that terrible war in very human form. He demonstrates how imperfect people from diverse backgrounds working for MI-5 shared that one essential quality that any effective intelligence person must have. They shared a genuine commitment to their mission. In this case, their mission was to help defeat Nazi Germany. By most traditional standards, the agents would not appear to be “cut from the right cloth.” In some instances their handlers committed blunders in dealing with them. The book clearly shows the reasons why each of them might have failed miserably, as well as why they didn’t.

I had previously read and enjoyed a couple of MacIntyre’s books, but so far, this must be his masterpiece. I have no hesitation in giving this book a Five Star rating on the Five Star scale. It’s not a movie but I can’t help but assign our Bayard and Holmes “.44-Magnum” rating because I so rarely get to use that top assessment. Anyone with interest in World War Two or the world of intelligence operations, or who simply likes good action stories, should absolutely read this book. It’s purely a great book.

image from Bloomsbury.com

Bravo to Ben MacIntyre for staying awake and on course through so many hours of work reading thousands of pages of documents to get to the critical facts. Well done!

You can find DOUBLE CROSS, along with MacIntyre’s other books, at Ben MacIntyre: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle.

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‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn – ARGO

By Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

ARGO movie poster

ARGO is a movie thriller based on Operation ARGO, a CIA undertaking lead by CIA employee Tony Mendez to rescue six US Embassy employees who avoided capture by the Iranian criminals who violated the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Ben Affleck directs and stars as Tony Mendez. He is supported by fellow stars Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Bryon Kranston.

Bayard

George Clooney is one of the producers of this movie, and he makes his mark immediately. ARGO opens with an American apologist historical spin, implying Iran was a happy, thriving utopia right up until big, bad US came in to set up Shah Pahlavi and steal all of the oil. For an actual historical perspective of this time period rather than the fictional version George Clooney offers, see Iran’s Present is Iran’s Past – Part VI, Rise of the Ayatollahs.

Once past the first few historically offensive minutes, ARGO becomes an excellent movie that superbly conveys the intensity of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In 1979, Americans were horrified at the unprecedented savagery of an attack on our diplomatic enclave. Even the ruthless Japanese Empire had not stooped so low during WWII. Across the country, we were united in front of the evening news, watching daily for something positive as the stress of the crisis and the brutal stories from friends and relatives who’d escaped became a constant background tension in our collective psyche as a nation.

image from ARGO movie

The escape of the six to Canada was a vital success for the West. It not only gave us hope through the long months of that untenable situation, but it renewed our faith in our good neighbors to the north, along with our other genuine allies. ARGO successfully captures the barbarity of the attack to Westerners and to decent Iranians, as well as the intensity of what the hostage crisis and the escape of the six meant to America.

One thing I appreciate most about ARGO is the sarcastic humor, which is expertly laced through the movie. There are some actual laugh-out-loud moments, usually thanks to Arkin and Goodman, that are just enough to prevent the dark subject matter from becoming overwhelming.

Overall, I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed ARGO, and I would definitely recommend it.

Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez, image from ARGO movie

Holmes

I enjoyed the movie and I am glad I saw it. The story line does not completely follow reality and, fortunately, a few key players are left out of the movie version. Affleck was not attempting to produce a CIA training manual; he was trying to create a watchable movie and he succeeded. He and the producers can be forgiven, and in fact thanked, for not being completely accurate.

Before I give kudos to the folks who made the movie a success, I should take a moment to express my humble but heartfelt gratitude to then Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife Pat, Canadian Immigration Officer John Sheardown, the Government of Canada, the Embassy and Government of Sweden, and several other brave souls, including Iranians, who will remain unknown. Without their moral and physical courage, the movie would not have been made because the six Americans who escaped the attack on the US Embassy would likely not have survived.

image from US State Department, public domain

As for the movie version of what occurred, I congratulate Ben Affleck for a very good job of acting and directing. Ben, you DON’T look like Tony Mendez, and I’m sure that will help Tony keep his personal life peaceful.

Alan Arkin did what Alan Arkin always does. He’s believable and humorous. Arkin and John Goodman combine to add a great touch to the movie. They play a couple of Hollywood insiders who conspire to help the CIA pull off the unlikely mission. Their performances alone are enough reason to see this movie. To those who follow Hollywood, it might seem implausible that anyone from that world would ever help the CIA. But Hollywood did just that on both this and other occasions, proving not everyone there is a self-absorbed, ignorant degenerate. There are decent people there, as well.

John Goodman and Alan Arkin, image from ARGO movie

The acting was well done all the way through the movie, including those bearded bad guys and the screaming imbeciles in the streets. You might feel a need to cluster bomb them throughout the film, but that just proves they are doing a good job of acting. Leave your cluster bombs and any other heavy weapons at home, please.

The editors did a fine job of weaving in a bit of historical footage without causing the usual brain twist that we normally suffer when historical footage is inserted in a movie. The lighting, sound, and camera work were perfect.

If you want a historical documentary, this isn’t it, but it’s still close enough for the documentary seekers to watch since no good documentaries are available for the events depicted.

As a cranky old spook, it’s often difficult for me to sit through a “spook drama” but I enjoyed this film. Fellow Yankees fans should momentarily forgive the Red Sox fan Affleck his many sins, both real and imagined, and enjoy this tense thriller. I can’t promise that you will be thrilled, but you should be well entertained. However, reasonable and responsible parents should not bring children under twelve to have them frightened by this movie.

Tony Mendez and President Jimmy Carter, image from cia.gov

Holmes and I give ARGO a qualified .44 Magnum rating, which is our highest level of cinematic esteem. It won’t actually change your life unless you happen to experience some sort of spiritual epiphany while in the bathroom at the theater or with your significant other in a dark theater parking lot. But this movie can somewhat illuminate one’s historical perspective, and it can certainly entertain a wide audience.

Have fun at the theater, and don’t get caught being socially inappropriate in the parking lot.

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