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.