Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?

“Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential trouble-makers and neutralize them…”
-          March 1968 FBI Memo

As I mentioned yesterday, I love comic book mythology.  One of the recurrent themes in the fantasy of the genre is the abuse of technology by nefarious forces.  This is not limited strictly to the funny pages.  The world’s favorite secret agent, 007, James Bond has been utilizing bleeding edge technology in his exploits since Ian Fleming first gave flesh to the myth in 1953.  Spanning the ensuing 59 years, Bond has saved the world countless times in a career spanning twelve Fleming novels, two collections of Fleming short stories, thirty-four additional books by several licensed authors and twenty-two motion pictures.  This November, Daniel Craig will take the Aston Martin (or BMW, I don’t know which company got the product placement contract this time out) for yet another spin when the twenty-third Bond film Skyfall hits theaters.  I’m not aware of the plot specifics, but I think it is a safe bet that Bond will once again be armed with at least one or two items of a fantastic nature.  Such is par for the course on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

These gadgets, much like the tools on Batman’s utility belt, help elevate Bond from the realm of the realistic and allow the audience to disconnect from the implications of a network of intelligence agents running amok behind the scenes of world events.  In reality, we are certain there are no Qs working on gear like Bond’s, at least not on the level of what we see in the movies.  It’s science fiction.  It is harmless fun.  It’s a slightly less ridiculous version of Dr. Who’s Tardis machine or Scotty’s transporter room.  It’s not real.

Well, I’m trying to be more optimistic in my world view these days, but I’m afraid I have to burst your bubble.  In 1973, at the end of the Watergate investigation, a bipartisan committee of senators known as the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities was formed to determine the truth behind some of the allegations leveled at the FBI and CIA during the course of the Watergate hearings.  Chaired by Senator Frank Church, the so-called Church Committee took their charge seriously and used all of the political power at their disposal to haul in members of the intelligence agencies and take them to the mat for what Congress deemed to be fairly grievous abuses of power.  The Church Committee conducted their investigation for over two years, finally releasing fourteen reports on their findings over the course of 1975 and 1976. 

These reports dragged into light the infamous dealings of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, namely their COINTELPRO program aimed at investigating, discrediting and neutralizing oppositional political movements such as those led by Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Dr. Martin Luther King and others.  The Church Committee also exposed the morally bankrupt CIA research project MK Ultra, wherein CIA agents explored pharmaceutical methods of coercion and control, going so far as to unwittingly dose American citizens with LSD to record its effects.  These two findings are the ones that got the most press, and for good reason.  With the horrors of Viet Nam and Tricky Dick’s administration still fresh in the mind of the American people, there was a tremendous call for better oversight over our so-called law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  These abuses went beyond a simple matter of lack of oversight.  They hinted at the corrupt beast hiding in the shadows of our country.  The press and the public were, in the words of the movie Network, fed up and they weren’t going to take it anymore.

Not gaining as much notoriety was a simple little gadget that made it into the report on CIA covert actions in Chile.  This simple dart gun, similar in nature to those used to tranquilize animals, contained a heart-attack inducing poison in the dart’s tip, a poison not eminently detectable by standard autopsy.  This weapon was used to induce death in targets where a murder investigation would be hazardous to the CIA mission at hand. 

Let me pause here and let that sink in.  I know the human mind’s natural inclination is to balk at such an insinuation.  Sure, Sean Connery might have to dodge such a dart, but there is no way agents working for own government would employ such a device.  However, I am not speaking about wild speculation.  I am not entertaining conspiracy theory.  I am simply remarking on a matter of Congressional record.  The CIA had a heart-attack gun in its arsenal, at least until 1975 when the Church Committee prohibited its continuing use.  Now we’re safe.  Unless they lied to Congress, but that would take a pretty amoral individual; almost as amoral as inventing a heart-attack gun in the first place.

So, that was 1975, and we have felt no need to have Congress investigate our intelligence community to such a great extent since.  In 2006, Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko was living in political asylum in the United Kingdom when he suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized.  He died three weeks later becoming the first confirmed victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome.  The only reason this was detected was because of the nature of Litvinenko’s political situation, where he was an MI6 backed supporter of the exiled Chechen Boris Berezovsky.  The day he fell ill, he had been eating sushi with two former KGB officers, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun.  Litvinenko and British Intelligence believed he had been dosed with polonium-210, a common method of KGB assassination because Litvinenko had made the accusation that Russian president Vladimir Putin had ordered the assassination of Chechen dissident Anna Politkovskaya.  Doctors tested for the substance and confirmed it.  This was widely reported throughout the west as NATO pointed its finger at the Russian actions in Chechnya as indication of Putin’s totalitarian aims.  Using Litvinenko’s story as a rallying point, NATO was able to organize a UN condemnation of the Russia-Chechnya conflict, putting Putin on bad political footing to this day.  As Bridget Jones once said, isn’t it terrible about Chechnya.

So what, you may ask?  Of course there are secret agents and of course they are engaged in shadow wars.  What’s it to me?  Perhaps nothing.  If that is the world in which you feel we must live, congratulations, your wish has been granted.  If, however, you feel that perhaps murdering each other in the dark is wrong, I want you to keep your eyes and mind open to what is going on all around us.  As much fun as I’m sure Skyfall will be this November, the reality it clouds you from seeing is deeply disturbing.

Now, I’m not going to make any accusations here.  That would be resorting to conspiracy theory, and as we all know, that is pure insanity.  I will merely state that at one time not too long ago, Rosie O’Donnell enjoyed a popularity and niche in our culture that rivaled the likes of Oprah.  Since she decided to stick to her convictions and speak her mind on 9/11 and the War in Iraq, she has been savagely insulted, denigrated, and ridiculed in the manner only an American public intent on kicking a celebrity when they’re down can savage someone.  Blacklisted by the entertainment world for her brash comments, she has slipped off the radar of most of us.  Charlie Sheen’s car crash career quickly made us forget all about her. 

Back in April, she hired a new publicist and agent and tried to jump back into her career.  Her blog Rosie.com still has regular traffic.  She is still a beloved figure in many circles.  Her books sell.  Her art sells.  She is by every definition, a marketable talent from whom the entertainment industry should want to profit.  But the second she made a television appearance, her heartfelt suggestion that Lindsay Lohan seek help for her obvious drug addiction was twisted by the media into yet another “Angry Rosie Talks Trash” message.  Rosie spent the next few months trying to say some things about the entertainment industry to anyone who would listen.  Ultimately, no one did.  Shortly after, her wife was diagnosed with a rare disease known as desmoids tumors, a form of aggressive fibromatosis that is often fatal.  Two weeks ago, Rosie herself had a heart attack.

Like I said, I’m not making any accusations.  Any speculation on these events is yours.  I’m just stating facts.  But, I would like to leave you with one question.  If they had a heart-attack gun in 1975, what do you think Q has been working on in the last 40 years?