In 1950, the agency bought the rights to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and then funded the 1954 British animated version of the film. Its involvement had long been rumoured, but only in the past decade have those rumours been substantiated, and the tale of the CIA’s role told in Daniel Leab’s book Orwell Subverted.
The most common way for the CIA to exert influence in Hollywood nowadays is not through anything as direct as funding, or rewriting scripts, but offering to help with matters of verisimilitude. That is done by having serving or former CIA agents acting as advisers on the film, though some might wonder whether there is ever really such a thing a “former agent”. As ex-CIA agent Lindsay Moran, the author of Blowing My Cover, has noted, the CIA often calls on former officers to perform tasks for their old employer.
So, altering scripts, financing films, suppressing the truth – it’s worrying enough. But there are cases where some believe the CIA’s activities in Hollywood have gone further – far enough, in fact, to be the stuff of movies. In June 1997, the screenwriter Gary DeVore was working on the screenplay for his directorial debut. It was to be an action movie set against the backdrop of the US invasion of Panama in 1989, which led to the overthrow of dictator Manuel Noriega. According to his wife, Wendy, DeVore had been talking to an old friend – the CIA’s Chase Brandon – about Noriega’s regime and US counternarcotic programmes in Latin America. Wendy told CNN: “He had been very disturbed over some of the things that he had been finding in his research. He was researching the United States invasion of Panama, because he was setting the actual story that he was writing against this; and the overthrow of Noriega and the enormous amounts of money laundering in the Panamanian banks, also our own government’s money laundering.”
At the end of that month, DeVore had been in Santa Fe, New Mexico, working on another project. He was travelling back to California when, at 1.15am on June 28, he called Wendy, a call she says has been excised from phone records. She told CNN she was “terribly alarmed” because he was speaking as though he were under duress. She was sure “someone was in the car with him”. That was the last time Wendy DeVore heard from her husband.
A year passed, but the case refused to die and speculation mounted. Even the Los Angeles Times began contemplating CIA involvement. DeVore was presumed dead, but there was no body, and no end to the questions. Lo and behold, just nine days after the LA Times reported the case, DeVore’s body was found, decomposing in his Ford Explorer, in 12 feet of water in the California Aqueduct below the Antelope Valley Freeway, south of Palmdale – a city located in “aerospace valley”, so dubbed by locals for its reputation as a US military-industrial-complex stronghold – fuel to the fire for conspiracy theorists.
The coroner went on to declare the cause and manner of DeVore’s death to be “unknown”, but police eventually reached the tentative conclusion that the screenwriter’s death was an accident: he had fallen asleep at the wheel, they said, before careening off the highway and into the water, where he drowned. But loose ends remain: DeVore’s laptop computer containing his unfinished script was missing from his vehicle, as was the gun he customarily carried on long trips; after his disappearance, a CIA representative allegedly showed up at DeVore’s house to request access to his computer; Hollywood private investigator Don Crutchfield noted that previous drafts of DeVore’s script were inexplicably wiped from said computer during the same timeframe; police claimed that DeVore’s vehicle careened off the highway, yet DeVore’s widow was troubled by the absence of visible damage to the guardrail at the scene of the alleged accident; and how come no one noticed an SUV sitting in the water beneath a busy highway for a whole year? Perhaps the whole incident is too like a conspiracy movie to be a real conspiracy – but many remain troubled by De Vore’s death.
Despite the CIA’s professed desire to be more open about the role it plays in Holly-wood, it’s hard to take its newfound transparency too seriously. After all, what use is a covert agency that does not act covertly, even if some of its activities are public? And if it is still not open about the truth of events decades ago, many of which have spilled into the public domain accidently, how can we be sure it is telling the truth about its activities now? The spy may have come in from the cold, but he still finds shelter in the dark of the cinema.
Source: The Guardian