Spies Like Paul Pillar
One of my "guilty pleasure" DVDs is Spies Like Us, a long-forgotten Chevy Chase-Dan Aykroyd vehicle from the mid-80s. In the film, Chase plays Emmit Fitz-Hume, a low-level State Department official and Aykroyd is Austin Milbarge, an equally anonmyous code breaker in the Pentagon. Both are hastily recruited and trained as field agents, with a mission to penetrate the former Soviet Union.
In reality, their characters are decoys, designed to divert Russian attention away from another spy team, tasked to steal (and launch) a Russian ICBM toward the United States. It's supposed to provide a test of a black world missile defense program, run by an Air Force general (Steve Forrest). Spies Like Us was a bit of a bust at the box office, but it is a surprisingly funny film that lampoons (among other things) the Cold War, Fail-Safe-genre movies from the 1960s, and the CIA's penchant for ineffective cover operations. In the film, virtually all of agency's activities--including covert agent insertion--are run by poorly-disguised front operation called the "Ace Tomato Company."
Two of my favorites characters in the film are a couple of CIA officers named Ruby and Keyes (Bruce Davison and the late William Prince). As willing accomplices in the ICBM operation, the CIA men are quite willing to send Fitz-Hume and Milbarge to their deaths, but when the plot unravels and they face arrest and imprisonment, Ruby and Keyes try to shift the blame to their military partners. "We were kidnapped," they claim, "That's right, kidnapped!" With their rep ties, Ivy League elitism and blame-someone-else mentality, Ruby and Keyes perfectly capture a CIA "culture" (real or imagined) that has produced more than its share of intelligence failures.
I don't think Bruce Davison or William Prince ever met Paul Pillar, but there does seem to be a striking resemblance between their characters and the former CIA official turned Bush Administration criticr. We wrote about Mr. Pillar a few days ago. Now, another former CIA officer (Guillermo Christensen) has a timely piece at OpinionJournal.com that does an even better job at exposing Pillar's hypocrisy. As Mr. Christensen notes, Pillar was responsible and (ostensibly) stood behind thousands of pages of pre-war intelligence that supported the invasion of Iraq. If he disagreed with those assessments, then Pillar (as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia) was uniquely positioned to counter those arguments, and offer competing analysis.
Instead, Pillar betrayed long-standing professional practices at the agency and became a vocal, public critic of the Bush Administration--and the very intelligence he helped produce. The result of this, according to Christensen, is a further undermining of the CIA's tenuous credibility with elected officials and policy makers. Because of the Pillar's conduct, Christensen believes that future leaders will be less likely to turn to the agency, fearing that conversations with CIA officials and finished analytical reports will be leaked to the press by malcontents inside the agency. Pillar and his fellow critics have actually pioneered a new method of plausibile deniability in the intelligence field--if your assessments are off, blame the intelligence consumer, and accuse them of trying to silence you. With (fomer) spies like Paul Pillar around, who needs enemies?