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by Jon Augustine


                                                                               Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

What keeps the hero of the movie, Robert Redford, alive against the rogue elements of the Agency is his ability to embrace ruthlessness and adaptability in the field. It is a rare movie indeed that has the hero kidnapping an innocent woman for his own protection. Any spy that has had his cover blown in a foreign country and been on the run will tell you that you learn to embrace the ability to be ruthless; one of the reasons that spies don’t talk about former missions is because they learn early that the behaviour in the field that saves your life is judged harshly in the cold light of day.


The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965)

Spies relate to the deep cover spy that Richard Burton plays in the movie. Like a “moth to the flame,” the key to the mission success of Burton’s character is his deniability for those who sent him on the mission. The White Hat Powers that Be wring every ounce of decency out of the main character. Many a spy who has worked a long time in the field encounters this dilemma – the bad guys aren’t so bad and the good guys aren’t so good and you are going to have to betray a lot of good, decent people to accomplish the mission. This movie particularly represents the moral damage that spies encounter after many years in the field.

Body of Lies (2008)

“This movie superbly illustrates contemporary tension between Western and Arab societies and the comparative effectiveness of hi-tech technology versus human counter-intelligence methods,” said the Special Operations officer.

Spying is about connecting and recruiting individuals through social engineering and behavioural science training. Many spies relate to Leonardo di Caprio’s character and the dilemma with headquarters and their reliance upon technology from 5,000 miles away. Spies have a saying: “There is nothing like being on the ground,” no satellite is going to tell you what is going on in people’s hearts and minds. 

The only mission for a CI operative is to identify, deceive and mind-fuck other enemy spies


The Good Shepherd (2006)

Although this is a fictional movie based on real events, it recounts the untold story of the birth of counter-intelligence in the Central Intelligence Agency. The film’s main character, Edward Wilson (portrayed by Matt Damon), is based on James Jesus Angleton. Robert De Niro plays a great supporting role as Wild Bill Donovan. A must for any true fan of espionage movies.

The Matt Damon character represents a personality profile that you will find amongst many in the world of espionage – complexities of personalities. Angleton was a ruthless anti-communist and is a legend in the CIA, however he was also known for his love of poetry and his well-known friendship with Ezra Pound, who was not only one of the world’s greatest poets, but also a known communist who was arrested for treason during World War II. These complex behaviour patterns are baffling to civilians but tend to be quite normal in the society of espionage.


Tailor of Panama (2001)

“Spies love Pierce Brosnan’s betrayal of the ‘loose cannon’ spy who creates all kinds of mayhem by tweaking the intelligence that he is sending back toheadquarters,” said another real-life former operative.

Spies love the fact that Brosnan’s character in the movie outwits headquarters and rides off into the sunset with a lot of money: spies have a dream of doing just that.

This article was first published in the Sabotage Times  in September 2013 and is republished here with the permission of the author.

by Jon Augustine

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