I found evidence this week, how true Eric Arthur Blair [aka ‘George Orwell’] was in his observations on the crucial importance of controlling the masses, or at least by influencing the mainstream media, often deploying the magician’s scantily-clad assistant in deflecting the attention of the observer, and therefore validating the statement ‘that perception is reality’ by the use of smoke and mirrors.
I am referring to my viewing on DVD this week of the 2007 film “Breach”, starring Chris Cooper; and my own annoyance about why, and how I’d missed this outstanding film when it was originally released theatrically. Though the most crucial question I pondered on was - why I had never heard of Robert Hanssen ?
This was due to two factors, firstly Cooper’s career-defining performance as Hanssen, showing a most ‘odd, complex and dangerous’ individual. Despite a strong religious leaning toward extreme Catholicism’s Opus Dei and a robust family background, he hid his secret well, so well that one must question his motivation[s], because they, like his dark side were hidden under a cloak of normalcy.
Secondly I discovered that Hanssen was the most treasonous American citizen in US history, who while holding down a top post at the FBI, sold highly classified US secrets to the Soviet regime for over 22 years. The secrets that Hanssen sold to Moscow, resulted in many US ‘Assets / Agents’ being compromised [tortured and murdered] by the Soviet Security Services [KGB]. The issue I had was despite being well-read, and informed [something I pride myself upon]; I am embarrassed to admit, though knowing much about Aldrich Ames, I was for some reason clueless about Hanssen. Could it do with me living in Britain? I had read significantly about the British traitors Blunt, Philby, Burgess & Maclean more commonly referred to as The Cambridge four [or five]. This conspiracy was mined, loosely to great effect in former ex-SIS recruit turned espionage novelist Charles Cumming in his recent ‘The Trinity Six’ novel.
Here’s a trailer for Breach which sets the scene for this hypnotic thriller that looks into the darkest edges of Human Nature -
Here’s an interview with Chris Cooper on how he decides on what roles to take on and why -
Chris Cooper is one of the most under-rated actors I know and I share his interest in geo-politics and his ‘left of left’ political leanings which often influences his choice of acting roles. This profile of him from the 2007 Edinburgh Festival is most insightful –
Cooper studied drama at the University of Missouri, did a couple of years of summer stock, and then moved to New York City, where he had a ball acting on stage for 12 years. In 1983 he married the actress Marianne Leone (best known here as Joanne Moltisanti in The Sopranos), who pushed Cooper into making films and kick-started his fruitful working relationship and close friendship with Sayles. In 1987 Cooper and Leone had a son, Jesse, who was born with cerebral palsy, who died from causes related to the disease two years ago, aged just 17. Jesse’s parents, who now live in Kingston, Massachusetts, set up the Jesse Cooper Foundation and work tirelessly as advocates for children with special needs (to that end Cooper and Leone are currently collaborating on a film about a mother’s relationship with her severely disabled daughter, Hurricane Mary).
From this background sketch you’ll perhaps have gleaned that Cooper, who speaks like a cowboy, conducts himself with the courtesy of a gentleman rancher, and has experienced something of the bohemian life as well as great personal loss, is a world away from the deceitful but otherwise straight-laced FBI man Robert Hanssen. Cooper describes his own politics as ‘left of left’. Sayles, who most recently cast him as a dimwitted politician and thinly-disguised pre-White House George Bush in the political satire Silver City, calls him a news junkie.
‘As soon as I wake up,’ Cooper confirms, ‘I listen to National Public Radio for the early coverage of what’s happening that day, and I’ll take a look at CNN throughout the day. That really kicked in after 9/11.’
Cooper talks confidently and freely about politics and current affairs: ‘I feel pretty confident we’ll get a Democratic administration next time round,’ he says, ‘but what Bush has done to our world needs a lot of patching up.’ And: ‘We’ve spent so much money on this war our bridges are falling down. As far as the infrastructure goes here, healthcare should be dealt with in this next election.’ And: ‘I’m glad to see Mr Brown is not so comfortable with President Bush. I think he takes a stronger stand on things.’
The actor’s 24/7 interest in news and politics is reflected in his choice of films, which are often distinguished by some degree of political edge: the Bourne films with their indictment of the CIA; Sam Mendes’ war-is-idiotic Gulf conflict drama Jarhead; the oil business conspiracy tale Syriana; and the forthcoming Middle East-set murder mystery The Kingdom. And now Breach, of whose real world basis Cooper says: ‘I remember pretty clearly that it was quite a big piece of news. Only after three or four days of media coverage it disappeared. What I’ve since discovered is this turned out to be a real embarrassment for the FBI. I think they got a hold of the media and shut the story down.’
After watching Cooper’s hypnotic portrayal of Robert Hanssen [which was mesmerizing] and for me career-defining, I dug a little deeper and then found this report from The Central Intelligence Agency [Langley] which provides a fascinating view into America’s most destructive security beach, one that very few truly understand –
Arguably the most damaging spy in US history, Hanssen repeatedly volunteered his services to Moscow’s intelligence services, cloaking his activities in a fictitious persona (Ramon Garcia) and adamantly refusing to reveal to his handlers the identity of his genuine employer. By all accounts, Hanssen was arrogantly confident in his ability to “play the spy game” according to the rules he created and employed. He gambled that he could deceive the FBI and the Russians and avoid being compromised by any US agent that might have penetrated Moscow’s services.
Many vexing questions exist about Hanssen’s rationale for acting as he did for as long as he did. But nothing has been debated as vigorously as the reasons why he was able to elude detection for two decades. Attempts to confer on Hanssen the mythological status of a “master spy” (e.g., CBS’s made-for-television movie Masterspy: The Robert Hanssen Story) are not supported by the facts of the case, and the key question remains: Why did it take so long for the FBI to catch a mole that had operated with impunity within its ranks for such a long period of time?
Breach, a fast-paced movie directed by Billy Ray, attempts to answer some of these perplexing questions. The movie covers only the last six weeks of Hanssen’s two-decade-long espionage career, opening in the late fall of 2000, when Hanssen first came under the investigative microscope. According to David Wise, author of one of the best of several accounts of Hanssen’s life and perfidy, a successful joint CIA-FBI initiative obtained a package containing a portion of an operational file pertaining to a mole deeply embedded in the US counterintelligence community.  In addition to the file, the package contained three other exceptional pieces of evidence: an audio tape containing two brief telephone conversations between the mole and a KGB interlocutor in 1986, copies of letters written by the mole during 1985–88, and two partial fingerprints lifted from a plastic garbage bag the mole had used to wrap a delivery to Moscow. Wise wrote that the purchase price of the package was $7 million.
It did not take the FBI long to piece together the shards of evidence and come to a stunning conclusion: The mole was one of their own special agents. Equally shocking to the FBI was the realization that the person its investigators had firmly believed to be the mole, a senior CIA counterintelligence specialist who had been the object of an extraordinarily invasive counterespionage investigation over the previous five years, was innocent. Despite the absence of evidence, the FBI had convinced CIA officials that it had good reason to believe that one of CIA’s officers had been responsible for compromising more than 50 compartmented FBI operations against the Soviet and Russian intelligence services operating in the United States during the period 1985–2000. 
Read more from The CIA Here
Here’s an interview with Ryan Phillippe who plays Eric O’ Neil FBI undercover agent who was responsible for bringing Hanssen to justice, but ultimately made him re-evaluate the personal cost of living undercover to his personal life.
Then I realized why I had not heard anything of significance about the Film ‘Breach’, from what Chris Cooper said –
‘I remember pretty clearly that it was quite a big piece of news. Only after three or four days of media coverage it disappeared. What I’ve since discovered is this turned out to be a real embarrassment for the FBI. I think they got a hold of the media and shut the story down.’
In my opinion ‘Breach’ is one of the greatest political thrillers [together with ‘Syriana’ which also stars Chris Cooper] I’ve seen since the golden age of 1970’s paranoia-cinema, such as ‘Three Days of the Condor’ based on James Grady’s novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’, The Parallax View, Richard Condon’s hugely influential novels that were filmed as Winter Kills and ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, or Alan J. Pakula’s ‘The Parallax View’ – though ‘Breach’ like ‘All The President’s Men’ is based on reality, not conjecture or conspiracy theory.
The discovery this week [for me], of ‘Breach’ and then further research on the whole Robert Hanssen affair distracted me from the dreadful civil disturbances and riots that have peppered many cities and towns in the UK, and which started in North London.
A surreal thought did occur to me for a thriller novella, and one that would be interesting for me to write, and these are the scribbles from my notebook which act as a synopsis –
I Predict a Riot
The world is on the brink of an economic and financial crisis. A lack of an understanding of human nature led to the fall of communism in the 1980’s, and now the ‘endless growth paradigm’ in a world of finite resources, [coupled to the self-same lack of understanding vis-à-vis human nature] is pushing capitalism toward the same path – collapse. To distract the ‘general public’ from the apocalyptic anxieties of the Euro-Crisis and the American Debt-Crisis, and their own problems [unemployment and rising commodity prices] a plan is hatched by ‘the-men-behind-the curtain’. Much frantic work is required behind the scenes [without public introspection as to the reality of the situation], to shore up the economy, so a distraction is created. A small cabal of espionage operatives are dispersed [in ‘hoodies’ and ‘gangster rap’ garb] in an operation across UK cities to spark / incite ‘small to medium scale’ civil disorder, which taps into the “under-classes / economically disadvantaged” and “criminals / gangs” who mount ‘copy-cat’ attacks as looting and rioting spreads in English inner-cities, with the police under instructions to take a ‘softly, softly’ approach. ‘Social Media’ is harnessed to encourage and fan the flames of disorder. The world media focus its fish-eye lens onto the British riots, thus keeping the real news, the economic crisis away from the centre of the camera. The ‘men-behind-the curtain’ can now work away with reduced public introspection, and the general public and ‘chattering classes’ get distracted from their current problems of unemployment, lack of job security, increased costs of energy, public-sector cutbacks, higher taxation – focusing instead on the moral issues behind these riots, brewing up ‘racism’ as humans always like someone to blame. The public demands use of water canon, rubber bullets, harsh punishments for the looters, clamp downs and restrictions on ‘social media’, even ‘hanging’ and agrees that we must give up more of our civil liberties, and freedoms as a cost we have to accept for our own safety. The mission creep toward the fascist society Orwell imagined in 1984 comes closer to reality.
I considered the plot way too far-fetched like this one, or this one, this one, or this one and I have many others, which are too unbelievable to consider that anyone could plan such an outrageous conspiracy, and how the media could be so misdirected, as some allege they were in 1969 when the western world feared the shadow cast by the Russian Space program.
“Four legs good, Two legs better”
If this article has interested you, it would be worth checking out the linkages between Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays and Wilhelm Reich – because everything is existential until it becomes real, but always remember the close linkages between ‘perception and reality’.
Others think that I read far too many thriller novels than is healthy for the mind, while others consider that it could be because my family originates from the North-East Indian State of Bihar, where Eric Arthur Blair was born in 1903, and Blair is more commonly known as George Orwell, a man I admire since reading his work as a young boy.
Or perhaps the reason why the Robert Hanssen story, like the film ‘Breach’ is not mentioned that much is because of the embarrassment it caused the FBI / CIA and the wider intelligence community, as his traitorous behaviour was uncovered in 2001, months prior to the other huge security breach that occurred on September 11th - another incident that provokes debate with the talk of conspiracy, conspiracy theories, security failures and ‘grassy knolls’.