21 December 2016

Real World Elements in Jason Bourne (2016)

For those already initiated into the world of Jason Bourne and the re-booted movies of the 2000's, the story elements reflecting the MK-ULTRA revelations and many other aspects of the US Deep State are nothing new.

However I noticed several elements woven into the plot of the 2016 Jason Bourne film that were of interest and thus far I have not detected a great deal of online comment with regard to these points.

These themes grabbed my attention even though I must confess the movie was something of a disappointment. It had a lot of potential but failed to deliver in several areas. My intention here is not to write a review but simply highlight a few points that were of particular interest to me and my readers.

For those interested in the film, consider the following...

1. The DNI vs. DCIA tensions

The movie attempts to portray the real world tensions between Langley and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), a National Security Council (NSC) level department created in 2005 by the Bush Administration as a means of administering all the various intelligence agencies including the CIA. Tommy Lee Jones' character plays the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCIA) and it's clear he resents the presence of the DNI at some of the meetings, as well as his oversight. When the head of CIA Cyber Ops plants an alternate operations plan in the ear of the DNI, the DCIA (Jones) clearly resents the intrusion, is forced to diplomatically play along with the suggestion and then works to countermand the DNI approved operation... to try and 'bring in' Bourne. The DCIA is determined to control the operation and manipulates the events accordingly.

In addition the fictional Operation Iron Hand is considered a not yet operational programme by the DNI while it's clear the CIA is already running it, indicating that the CIA is working to undermine the DNI's knowledge and authority. These are real world themes being worked into the plot.

Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) the Cyber Ops agent later schemes to get named to the DCIA position at some future date and tries to solidify her standing by presenting herself as loyal if not beholden to the DNI.

These types of schemes and intrigues have been hinted at in the chaos that flowed out of the creation of the DNI in 2005. Interestingly president-elect Trump has indicated he may try to eliminate the position altogether and revert to the old order, which would certainly give Langley a free hand. The DCIA would once more become not only the head figure at Langley but would be restored as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), the head of all US intelligence agencies.

Considering the fact that Trump seems (at this point in Dec 2016) all too willing to irritate the CIA, one must wonder if he fully grasps the DNI-DCIA dynamic. I would imagine the move against the DNI position is probably being orchestrated (or whispered in his ear) by other members of his team.

2. Stay-Behind Units

It was just a passing line in the movie, but when Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) shows up at the hacker den in Iceland she has an old laptop. Later at CIA HQ it's identified as a laptop from a Stay-Behind Unit in Russia from the 1990s.

This is interesting on several fronts. One, you don't usually hear about Stay-Behind units in pop culture. These units, usually associated by the name of the Cold War era Italian operation known as 'Gladio', were clandestine paramilitaries stationed underground in various countries. By day they might be businessmen, blue collar workers or whatever but by night they were part of secret units working to combat Communism.

They were 'Stay-Behind' because they were supposedly in place to work as behind-the-lines guerillas in the event of a Soviet takeover of Western Europe. Since this never happened and wasn't really ever a viable threat, they instead became involved (at CIA behest) in various clandestine and basically terrorist operations. They infiltrated Left-wing groups, served as provocateurs and were involved in a lot of dark and deadly stuff.

The idea that Stay-Behind units were placed inside Russia in the 1990s is intriguing to say the least. I would certainly want to ask the screenwriter if there was some information that provided the basis for that small addition to the plot.

The United States certainly worked to infiltrate and subvert Russia in the 1990s and at one point there were fears that it was near collapse. As the USSR began to be missed by much of the population, there were fears of a Communist resurgence. The notion that the United States might have planned for such an event is certainly plausible.

There are other Stay-Behind scenarios within Russia that could be considered. They might involve Right-wing fascist groups in Russia, Ukraine as well as Chechen elements the US (at least at one time) backed through Turkey. There are indications this support may continue even today as it is well known the Chechen rebels move about Turkey and Jordan with ease and operate out of US-allied Georgia.

The United States also worked with elements connected to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and worked at infiltrating the Soviet Union. Some of the Afghan fighters were Tajik and Uzbek, and just across the border were the regions of the USSR that post-1991 became known as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

There are many other real world indications, beyond the brief mention in the Bourne movie that Gladio survived under modified form and lives on even today.

3.  False Flag Terror Operations

These are of course presented as 'rogue' operations by a 'rogue' element within the CIA, nevertheless the movie is clearly asserting that the US will at times use false flag terrorism as a means to an end.

Jason Bourne's father is killed by terrorists in Beirut during the late 1990s and it is pinned on Islamic fighters. Later Bourne discovers this was a CIA operation to silence his father and he is particularly troubled by this as that event played a key part in it his volunteering for Treadstone... the MK-ULTRA inspired assassination programme.

The Jones DCIA character works to subvert the Cyber Ops Director's plan to approach Bourne and utilises a deep cover assassin to eliminate assets from a CIA field team in London. The murders are pinned on Bourne and are meant to clear the field (so to speak) so the DCIA can reassert control of the operation and the assassin can be given the green light to kill Bourne.

In addition the movie portrays the CIA director plotting to kill a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and then pin the murder on an Iraqi...whether real or fictional I cannot tell. But clearly it's a false flag terror/assassination attack.

Some patriotic (and thus to some degree brainwashed) viewers if they understand the implications will find some of these elements very offensive.

4. The CIA funding of Silicon Valley/Wall Street

The movie clearly implies the CIA gave the initial capital to the Kalloor character to start up the Deep Dream social network. The character is clearly patterned on Mark Zuckerberg although one might argue the character is an amalgam or composite of several Silicon Valley pioneers.

In-Q-Tel is well known as the CIA's venture capital arm that is deeply tied to several Silicon Valley, tech and even Wall Street firms. To venture into this territory is to leap into the rabbit hole. It's pretty interesting, confusing and frankly overwhelming... but it opens one's eyes to the nature and profound 'depth' of the Deep State.

While Zuckerberg is the most obvious parallel or inspiration for the Kalloor character, I think a case can be made with regard to the founders of Google and perhaps other Silicon Valley firms.

The fact that In-Q-Tel is somewhat transparent and above board hints at the existence of a larger iceberg lingering below the surface.

5. European Security/Customs vs. United States Protocols

The movie focuses on and employs some of the new technology that has developed since the last major film in 2007. I'm not counting the 2010 Bourne Legacy movie which was also interesting (and worthy of an article) but never received the attention of the Matt Damon films.

In 2007, social networks like Facebook, as well as Smartphones, some of the mapping software and certainly facial recognition were all somewhat new and primitive when compared to what is available in 2016.

The way the movie depicts facial recognition technology is to say the least disturbing. Hiding from the authorities has become so difficult as to be almost impossible. This is amplified in the context of the West with all the surveillance cameras and identification requirements.

False identification documents don't really help anymore because if they have your picture... you can be tracked through facial recognition software. Your features will be run through filters and if the algorithms are thorough, you'll be picked up.

While this world does not exist outside the Western context there is still a small difference between Europe and the USA. The movie mentions that Nicky Parsons left Iceland (a haven for dissidents) and flew to Bucharest and then to Athens. Eastern Europe and Greece aren't yet fully integrated and so that itinerary makes sense.

Bourne travels from Greece to Berlin to London but how he traveled is not revealed to us. Yet one gets the impression that the full spectrum of this technological power is not being utilised in the European theatre... something that has grieved and irritated the Americans for some time.

One immediately thinks of France and the 2015-2016 terror attacks. In their wake François Hollande has moved to shore up French security, intelligence and to expand its powers through a state of emergency and actual legislation. Belgium is facing the same threat.

Interestingly in every case the perpetrators were all figures on the radar, characters well known to Western intelligence agencies. One cannot but think about the past instances of these same agencies using terror (via Stay-Behind networks) as a means to drive politics. During the Cold War the United States employed fascists, many who were actual ex-Nazis or associated with Nazi-friendly regimes during the war. By the 1980s the United States was heavily involved with Islamic terrorists and used them in Afghanistan and beyond.

Is an old chapter being repeated? Maybe it never ended. There are indications this is the case. When one looks to the Caucasus, the Pan-Turkic movement, the Syrian War, Libya, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere there are indications that the US may be running networks in Europe. Ostensibly to recruit fighters for Syria and Libya, these same groups can be easily manipulated.

Another point of consideration is the clear shift that took place in 2011-2012 when the United States began to back groups directly affiliated with al Qaeda against the secular Gaddafi and Assad regimes. With the rise of ISIS, who is heavily funded and armed by US allies, further support flowed toward al Qaeda affiliates, especially in Syria.

Europe is often criticised for failing to fully implement the security measures recommended by the United States and for focusing too much on the privacy of its citizens. Of course the Europeans have had direct experience with Fascism and other forms of Totalitarianism.

Little by little, European security and intelligence is being handed over to the United States. Washington has long dominated its Western European satellites and satrapies but significant moves have been made even in recent years to solidify its grip.

For Germany this kind of control harkens back to the days of the Nazi saturated Gehlen Organisation which later was transformed into today's BND... the German intelligence agency.

While Bourne is afforded a degree of movement within Europe he cannot pass through US customs even with a fake passport. He has to have Lee's help via a CIA access code to enter the United States and escape an alert on his passport at the customs window.

Nevertheless, somewhere in the depths of Langley a tracking program of some variety picks him up via facial recognition. Depending on one's read of the situation, Europe is to be praised or condemned for its 'laxity'.

In addition to the parallels with Zuckerberg, there is a character which roughly matches Julian Assange. He's portrayed as rather cold and mercenary and certainly not someone to emulate or look up to. Nicky is to be pitied for falling under his spell.

Assange is of course a rather complicated figure and while the movie clearly alludes to him, the real life personality is somewhat different. It would probably be more accurate to speak of Assange 'inspiring' the Christian Dassault character.

Finally who is CIA director (DCIA) Dewey? Are there any real life parallels?

His on-screen death would seem improbable to many. Though when one considers the mysterious death of William Colby, maybe the murder of a CIA director is not that implausible. It's a loose parallel to be sure but interesting even though his death took place some twenty years after he left the agency.

I was compelled to think of someone like John Poindexter, maybe even imagining Poindexter filling a role high up within CIA. His Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme was shut down in 2003 due to public protest but just like in the movies, the name was changed, and it was parsed and then reconstituted in various forms and lives on today.

Or one might think of a figure like Dick Cheney who seems particularly given to Machiavellian secrecy and disregard for the law as well as any form of accountability. Clearly the Jones-DCIA character also represents a composite or amalgam of various figures that have haunted the US intelligence apparatus and have been essential operatives of the Deep State.

The movie suffered from a shallow plot, certain implausible elements of storyline and a real lack of character development. It was entertaining and thought-provoking if one pays attention and reflects on the nature of the questions posed.

Is Bourne a traitor? What is a traitor? Is the US a land of laws and principles or is primarily about one's tribe and nationhood? Does the latter take precedent over the former? While many might argue the categories are not mutually exclusive, at points of crisis it is clear one or the other must be given precedence.

I also wish the movie had provided more information about what Parsons and Bourne had been doing during the years of silence underground. Clearly the money had run out and there was a hint of ragged desperation about them. The underworld is complex and fascinating. While it is often tinged with and tainted by criminality the truth is more complex.


  1. This was helpful, I missed some of this while watching it recently. Here's a couple additional thoughts:

    1) I found the protest in Greece sort of interesting in how the plot treats it. It's merely a backdrop for the real action being conducted by the Americans (Borne vs. CIA). This is common in all the movies, but the newest makes it even more extreme. A state of emergency and a lock-down in Athens is just backdrop, it's meaningless, nothing changes, the people are totally meaningless, the police merely speed-bumps to avoid or run over. It's even funny how then the movie goes to another extreme applying the same logic to the US itself. The third movie saw some wreckage of New York, but it was Bourne who brought the fight to the CIA. Now, American soil is integral to the CIA plot. This shows how far American apparatus is from actual American soil. Before, the CIA had to pretend to maintain an in-out border, restricting its access from actual American soil. The movie reveals this has lifted entirely. This goes along with political theorist Bobbitt's analysis of the development states, and how the US is leading the way in a transition from the nation-state to the market-state. This is a move that makes a corporate office in London or Beijing a more American center than say a Las Vegas casino. Bobbitt is an apologist and an optimist, but his analysis is shocking. Patriotism can be "my country right or wrong", but it's morphed into a much more strange amalgam of maintaining the corporation-intelligence matrix.

    2) I thought the scene where Dewey stares at his hand in a mirror was interesting. This was when he decided to have the assassin shoot off his left hand so the false-flag looks more real. This goes along with all the bizarre appeals to patriotism throughout the movie the combine a weird sense of sentimentality and irrationality. The movie never explains why killing Bourne or having operatives placed across the globe or controlling Deep Dream as a means to gain intel is necessary, it just is.

    3) The irrational hunt for Bourne. The whole movie hinges on the bizarre private quest of revenge. This might be weak writing, but it showed for me the nature of security-apparatus blowback. There was no proof that Richard Webb was going to actually doing anything about Treadstone, he just didn't want his son in it. There's no explanation why Bourne was anything special besides being an exceptional soldier. Had the CIA not murdered Nikki, Bourne may have never come out swinging. The extreme reactionary paranoia that drives the decisions of the Intelligence network, combined with the interagency jocking, creates a climate for a perfect storm. Thus, the CIA really creates its own problems

    I found the movie disappointing also. For ex: how can Bourne just walk around a highly secure convention with a ballcap over his face, as if that wouldn't warrant immediate suspicion from just about everyone?! That was lazy plot advancement!

    1. I had never heard of this Bobbitt character until reading your post. I read up on him and his "market state" thesis and was generally disgusted with what I found, mostly because it's proffered as some sort of novel idea. It really isn't. It simply uses language like "transitioning from a model of the State that exists to protect and provide for its citizens to one that creates opportunities" to conceal the fact that what is happening is nothing more than a new phase in the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, in addition to the fusion of corporate and state power, the latter of which serves the former in a globalized environment.

      Of course, as other commentators have noted, this vision of the world is not coming to pass. The recent election of Trump, who campaigned largely on a nativist and protectionist platform, represents a reaction to the grim realities the "market state" has introduced. The same can also be said for the emergence of right-wing political movements in Europe and the rise of the "alt-right" in general.

      I could go on but given that you've likely studied this extensively, you could probably expand even further on what I've said here.

    2. Bobbitt is definitely an advocate for the Market-State and I, like you I imagine, was horrified by what he was describing. However, I do think the man is both perceptive and correct. You're right to say that the election of Trump is a challenge to the development of the Market-State. However, a challenge is not disproval. In fact, the general disgust with Trump by both "right" and "left" wings of the Establishment in the US reveals the challenge is not taken lying down. And this goes beyond nativism and protectivist economic policies, it has to do with his pro(ish)-Russian stance during his campaign. Russia, whatever one thinks of it, represents a serious challenge and rejection of the burgeoning market-state.

      In the global economy, this makes the US empire (and the Chinese in some ways) the new form of Empire and it exists beyond national borders, even as it remains national. In this model, London is more American than some rustbelt town. Not in terms of national jurisdictions and internationally recognized borders, but in terms of a real power matrix. The thesis of the Market-State tries to conceptualize this new arrangement.

      This is a transition point in history. In a lot of ways, we are arguable in a period like the 30 Years War, and its possible places like Syria, Ukraine, and forseeably elsewhere, will become 17th century German states where geopolitics is decided in artificially prolonged civil wars between proxies. This is not just a battle between powers, but a battle over new modes of existence for states.


    3. And yet, Marx had written in the German Ideology in 1846:

      "The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."

      Like I said, this "Market-State" thesis is nothing new and it's intellectually dishonest of Bobbitt to pass it off as if it's his own idea. That's what really gets to me. He refuses to admit that his self-interest is bound up with his ideology and he passes it off as "the plain truth". It's not, and it ignores a vast swathe of variables that not only challenge his notion that this is a smooth, linear development but also that it will somehow bring a brighter future for all.

      Of course, I would argue that Brexit and Trump are carefully managed diversions designed to split and undermine those who are adversely affected by the further concentration of wealth and power we have witnessed over the past 20 years, but that's for another discussion.

    4. I don't know the context of the Marx quote, but I'm not sure this is referring to the same thing. The Market-State idea is much more than a technocratic bourgeois government. He doesn't argue its a smooth development, its theoretical. The city-state model occurred in Ancient Greece and then in Renaissance Italy.

      The presidency, as highest national office, is not nearly as important. And Bobbitt doesn't argue the market-state exists, he is arguing it is in a process of coming to be in the US, per 2008 when he wrote about it. He argues this is a phenomenon worth protecting, so this is not merely a development of history that just occurs, whether anyone likes it or not.

      He attaches a moral meaning of this and interprets in a progressive Atlanticist development that is good for America and the world. I am separating this off from his theoretical analysis, yet this seems to be something you're stuck on.

  2. Marx was basically examining the same phenomenon as Bobbitt from the standpoint of class interests (kind of hard not to, in my opinion) and regarded the state (as it existed at the time) as an implement of class dictatorship that preserved the economic system from which those at the top benefited. He would have argued that while there might have been free elections in a multiparty system, as long as capitalism remained the dominant mode of production, nothing that threatened its existence or hindered it in any way would have been tolerated. While capitalism itself has evolved since then (primarily by expanding beyond national borders - and this has been the case since at least the end of the 19th century), it has remained fundamentally the same in terms of the social relations it engenders, the crises to which it is prone and the method within which wealth is progressively concentrated. Any laws or regulations that are enacted are designed to protect it. Roosevelt's New Deal is one such example. NAFTA is another. I could go on but I think the point has been made.

    What Bobbitt is saying (at least this is what it sounds like) is that capitalism has progressed to the point where it doesn't even require traditional state mechanisms to function. It can exercise direct control over the population through its corporate structures and use the most sophisticated methods of psychological manipulation to get people to buy their products and services. I will concede that this provides us a unique observation of cosmetic changes that could occur but I don't believe it adds much more to what Marx already said. If that's indeed what he means by the "Market State", I can't understand why he would praise such a system and still fancy himself a "champion of liberty" in any way. I can't even fathom how such a system would have any sort of long-term sustainability. It sounds like utopian nonsense at best and a nightmare if ever actually put into practice. Emperor Palpatine disbanding the Galactic Senate and handing control over to "regional governors" comes to mind, as does Arthur Jensen's famous speech to Howard Beale in "Network".