One of my all-time favorite movies is Three Days of the Condor. Directed by Syndey Pollack, it stars Cliff Robertson as the antagonist Deputy Director of the CIA’s New York division, Robert Redford as the protagonist CIA agent, code name Condor, Faye Dunaway – and Max von Sydow, who plays the character of Joubert, an international hired assassin whose affable yet cold and calculating indifference to life and politics serves as artistic imagery for the story’s thematic conflict.
Produced almost four decades ago, there is an epic scene at the end of the movie (see below) that, except for changes in fashion design, is as relevant and timely today as it was in the mid 70s. At issue is the value and role that secret intelligence plays in national security. More particularly, it is about the conflicting interests of national security versus individual privacy. Does that sound familiar? Wikileaks . . . Eric Snowden . . . Prism . . . Google . . . Benghazi . . . Angela Merkel . . .
In an age of electronic media acceleration, knowledge and information that becomes available under the auspices of national security can almost instantaneously be perverted into intellectual weaponry. And once individuals with access to that intelligence who are also seeking positions of political power recognize the value of such weaponry it creates an addiction that goes well beyond the original intent. I think it would be nearly impossible today to determine how much intelligence gathered in the name of national security is primarily used for political security.
For decades we have somehow been able to muddle through a balance between protecting national security and providing the masses at least the illusion their private lives are just that – private. That balance is now in serious peril in a way that it never has been. As Robertson’s character argues in the final scene of Three Days, it’s way too late to discuss the appropriate balance between intelligence gathering and personal privacy when a national threat has been manifested in a way that threatens lives (watch the video).
In lieu of such threats from terrorism and WMD, we discount the value of intelligence protecting our national security at our own peril. But at what point does the cost of gathering that intelligence – in terms of privacy and personal liberty – no longer justify the reduction in risk to our lives? Invoke Patrick Henry here. That is a discussion that we have to have in this country, independent of political interests, and the sooner the better.