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Spies, Spooks & Governments — art imitating life?

29 September, 2009

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As the saying goes, “Is it art imitating life or life imitating art?”  A good friend in the States (thanks, Joel!) alerted me to this New York Times article by Garry Wills (professor of history emeritus at Northwestern University outside of Chicago) entitled, “Entangled Giant”.  See Garry Wills, \”Entangled Giant\” NY Times

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Wills’ thesis is this:  since the end of the Second World War the intelligence community (C.I.A. and National Security Agency and others) has grown in size, power and influence.  Coordinate with this has been the shift of balance towards the executive branch (the Presidency and the White House staff — think West Wing) and the global fears — first, of Communism and “the bomb” and, most recently, Islamic terrorism.  There arose both a need for the intelligence community and the community created a need for its’ existence.

The result is, according to Wills, that no administration of either party is able to extricate itself from the tangled webs of the arcane and hugely inter-associated world of the “Spooks”.  Neither party can legitimately claim any moral high ground, on which to stand and make change; and neither party is free from the pragmatics and temptations associated with the use of intelligence resources.  In short, Bush and Cheney aren’t the only questionable characters because Obama (so far) isn’t doing all that much different.

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All of which might imply: (a) that no one administration or party is really able to govern without getting “dirty hands” and (b) that the story lines of characters like Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer are not at all that far-fetched.  Simply put: art may well imitate life but life may also imitate art…and who can tell the difference anymore?  But since things today (think of Iran’s missile testing and alleged developments of nuclear weaponry) are far, far more serious and dangerous than an episode of 24 or Spooks (even though both of these are some of my favourite programmes to watch) would portray, the role of our intelligence agencies and the governing authority of our elected leaders is morally and politically profound.

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