Every so often, we pick a popular movie, play, or TV show and talk about the real-life context. Today: Showtime's "Homeland."
Bob Baer, the Intelligence Columnist for TIME Magazine and 21-year veteran of the CIA, talks about what "Homeland" gets right and what it says about counter-terrorism. Then, June Thomas, a culture critic for Slate and host of the new Slate podcast The Afterword, discusses what the show says about the evolution of spy thrillers after 9/11.
Seven Fact-Checks on Homeland from Ex-CIA Agent Bob Baer
1. In response to a clip from the show about surveillance on Sergeant Brody's home and family, Baer pointed out that the CIA doesn't conduct surveillance inside the United States. The FBI does.
2. There's a lot of focus on the motivations of Abu Nazir, the Osama bin Laden character on Homeland. There's more psychological profiling on TV, Baer said. Intelligence officers wouldn't focus so much on the subtle motivations of terrorists, but rather focus more on locating terrorists and getting information from them.
3. The Homeland crew is a little more efficient than the real-life CIA. The intelligence community receives an overwhelming about of surveillance data. Even with many agents working on it, it is sometimes difficult to find the dots and figure out how they connect.
4. It is reasonable that agents would suffer a form of PTSD like those on the show. Carrie probably would feel guilt and a desperate need to avoid another event like 9/11.
5. Hollywood often creates the illusion that torture works. In reality this is unclear.
6. As in the show, the CIA interviews would-be suicide bombers whose vests didn't explode, and has found that suicide bombers in fact have a range of motives and sometimes aren't clear on their targets.
7. It's less sexy in real life. Like many of us, a CIA agent might actually spend most of her day writing reports in the office.