Vice’s Jason Leopold (4/6/16) has uncovered documents showing the CIA had a role in producing up to 22 entertainment “projects,” including History Channel documentary Air America: The CIA’s Secret Airline, Bravo‘s Top Chef: Covert Cuisine, the USA Network series Covert Affairs and the BBC documentary The Secret War on Terror—along with two fictional feature films about the CIA that both came out in 2012.
The CIA’s involvement in the production of Zero Dark Thirty (effectively exchanging “insider” access for a two-hour-long torture commercial) has already been well-established, but the agency’s role in the production of Argo—which won the Best Picture Oscar for 2012—was heretofore unknown. The extent of the CIA’s involvement in the projects is still largely classified, as Leopold notes, quoting an Agency audit report:
However, because of the lack of adequate records, we were unable to determine the extent of the CIA’s support to the eight projects, the extent to which foreign nationals participated in CIA-sponsored activities, and whether the Director/OPA approved the activities and participation of foreign nationals…. Failure on the part of CIA officers to adhere to the regulatory requirements could result in unauthorized disclosures, inappropriate actions and negative consequences for the CIA.
The CIA’s history of producing or helping to produce films goes back decades. The Agency, for example, secretly bought the rights to Animal Farm after Orwell’s death in 1950 and produce an animated adaptation centered on demonizing the Soviet Union rather than capturing Orwell’s broader critiques of power.