By by Jon Augustine
After years of dodging bullets, drinking martinis and indulging in espionage former operatives tell us, covertly of course, which spy films cut the mustard…
This list was compiled by several real-life former spies from the CIA, NSA, the US. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and more agencies — all of whom are founders or Board Members of the Long Island Spy Museum www.longislandspymuseum.org
Image from the Guardian
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979)
“Real-life spies love the plot focus on recruitment of assets, betrayal and subterfuge; this is the ‘bread and butter’ of spycraft,” said one former CIA officer.
Many former and existing spies relate particularly well to Smiley’s character and the duality that he represents: patriotic and capable without ego combined with that nagging suspicion that defending democracy can be a thankless job and, in the end, he will almost certainly be the last victim in the saga. There is an old saying in espionage: ‘There is nothing more dangerous than an honest man with no agenda.’ This makes Smiley incorruptible to the enemy but also makes him a long-term threat to his political masters.
Like real-life spying, the movie is slow and steady with moments of underlying tension and moments of pure ‘dynamite’ particularly when moral dilemmas present themselves. The way Munich proceeded was a lot like real-life spying. It’s not glitz and glamour and flash all the time…successful espionage is slow, methodical, careful; sometimes there’s gripping tension when plans seem to go not quite according to plan, and other times — like in Munich — moral dilemmas can turn even the best laid plans on their head. The movie is realistic in this way.
“NOC officers do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity so when they are caught working in foreign lands, it usually results in incarceration, death or severe bodily harm,” said one Defense Intelligence Agency Spy. “Shifting loyalties and alliances are not fiction in real-world spying. It’s critical to be careful; sometimes that’s the difference between life and death.”
Spying makes strange bed-fellows and there are many cases of two opposing deep-cover operatives inserted into a situation: being forced to work together for the greater good.
39 Steps (1935)
Spies love this movie because of the unexpected twists and turns; something that is ‘par for the course’ in the world of espionage. There is an old saying used by spies all over the world – ‘It’s a great plan until the first shot is fired!’ Any self-respecting spy will tell you that adaptability is critical in the field.
The way Munich proceeded was a lot like real-life spying. It’s not glitz and glamour and flash all the time
Eye of the Needle
This movie happens to be a personal favourite for spies tasked with counter-intelligence. The only mission for a CI operative is to identify, deceive and mind-fuck other enemy spies. This movie epitomizes the Spy-versus-Spy battles that take place every day without the public’s knowledge.
by Jon Augustine
This article was first published in the Sabotage Times in September 2013 and is republished here with the permission of the author.