WASHINGTON – It’s well-known that Hollywood loves a good spy story. But what is also true, according to a new memoir by a former senior CIA official, is that movie makers regularly do some real-life spying.
“The CIA has long had a special relationship with the entertainment industry, devoting considerable attention to fostering relationships with Hollywood movers and shakers – studio executives, producers, directors, big-name actors,” John Rizzo, the former acting CIA general counsel, wrote in his new book, “Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.”
People might assume that since Hollywood leans to the political left, the CIA’s relationships “would be with the sort of conservative picket of Hollywood,” Rizzo said in an interview. “Well, that’s not true. People one would normally associate with liberal causes have assisted CIA.”
Alas, Rizzo is prohibited from naming names. They are classified. The CIA declined to comment.
He did, however, provide some detail about the types of help the agency has solicited from Hollywood. At times, Rizzo said, film makers will be asked to allow a CIA operative to pose as a member of their crew, particularly if a movie is being filmed in a country where the spy agency has difficulty operating.
The CIA also recruits actors to give more visibility to propaganda projects abroad, such as a documentary secretly produced by the agency, Rizzo said. And the agency sometimes takes advantage of the door-opening cachet that movie stars and other American celebrities enjoy. A star who met a world leader, for example, might be asked for details about that meeting.
The CIA has officials assigned full time to the care and feeding of Hollywood assets, Rizzo wrote. Other former CIA officials added that some of those operatives work in the Los Angeles office of an agency department called the National Resources Division, which recruits people in the U.S. to help America spy abroad.
“It was going on when I got there, and it was going on when I left” in 2009, Rizzo said, adding that the activities continue.
“Hollywood people are glamorous,” he said. “They get access and entre to people overseas that the U.S. government doesn’t.”
In the book, Rizzo quoted an unidentified colleague who worked for years with film makers, offering a theory about their motivation.
“These are people who have made a lot of money basically making stuff up,” the colleague said. “A lot of them, at least the smarter and more self-aware ones, realize that what they do makes them ridiculously rich but is also ephemeral and meaningless in the larger scheme of things. So they’re receptive to helping the CIA in any way they can, probably in equal parts because they are sincerely patriotic and because it gives them a taste of real life intrigue.”
Rizzo described a scene from “years ago” when one of the CIA’s Hollywood recruiters came to him with news that a major film star wanted to work for the agency after he found out a rival actor had been doing so. “Now this actor was offering his own name and services to us. Free of charge. Anything he could do. Just out of his patriotic duty.”
There was one catch, Rizzo’s colleague told him: “He wants us to score for him the best $50,000 stash of cocaine we can find.”
Rizzo’s response: “No. No way. Forget it.”
The star helped anyway, Rizzo wrote.