Context and a TV Show: Homeland

Monday, October 01, 2012

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. 


Bob Baer and June Thomas

Comments [14]

Stephen from Bayville

I called in but missed the window. What about this??? Since the dirty CFMA is still law and the Glas-Steagall wall is still down, why not just take out more CDOs on the notes at their CURRENT valuation? If we recall that the so-called 'toxic assets' are still on the books and no decision has been made on whether they are "mark to market" or "mark to book" (big surprise, given that Congress is a large criminal body), we simply create another basket with CDOs and CDSs to insure them.

Then, we have a class of CDOs (or CDO^2s or what have you), which have a FIXED maturity date (based on the time of the first note that's in the basket of toxic assets). Now, there MAY or MAY not be a haircut on the differential b/t the original CDO and the new one, but NOW it's in the bank's best interest to defer the risk (time+value). Inflation+time+market economics will very likely bring the value of the home back to 2005-6 prices in 10-15 years, but it doesn't matter, b/z you still have a collateralizable asset underlying the new note.

The results of this idea: 1) The toxic asset paper is handled 2) the homeowner may make a modest profit (based on regular valuation) AND stays in the home 3) the banks make $$, b/z now they have a shorter, fixed maturity date (and a new financial product), and instruments like this behave more like insurance-based products. They also get out of the REO business, which is a loser 4) the FED can get out of holding these poison notes 5) it then becomes in EVERY member of Congress' best interest to get the economy going again, by ANY means necessary, b/z now homeowners' and banks' interests are parallelized!

Oct. 01 2012 12:34 PM
John A from TBD

I want to see this show... We're adults, we can fill in the blanks with the added reality.
Listen to Mark Owen ("No Ordinary Day") talk about his assigned UBL analyst. Sounds line the Danes character to me.

Oct. 01 2012 10:57 AM

TV: Weapon of Mass Distraction. Hollywood deals with politics in much the same way it deals with demon possession or serial killers in these "dramas" - they give a nod & a wink to the rationalists/insiders whilst feeding fodder to the fools with conventional stereotypes and story arcs. And this is worth analysis??

Oct. 01 2012 10:56 AM

Small wonder Mr. Baer went into the CIA, rather than a dramatic criticism.

This show is preposerously over-rated. Clumsy, expository and fundamentally right-wing.

Oct. 01 2012 10:53 AM

Oct. 01 2012 10:50 AM
Nick from UWS

Do you REALLY think an ex-CIA agent is going to tell the truth about the way the CIA operates? The show probably depicts CIA operations very close to the truth; an ex-CIA agent would be the last person I would ask for truth as to how the CIA operates. The CIA has stuck its nose and meddled in every single international issue.

Oct. 01 2012 10:50 AM
Lee from Manhattan

Does the CIA access data from Facebook or from other social networks?

Oct. 01 2012 10:49 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I haven't seen "Homeland" yet because I do not have cable TV. But I did recently finish watching the Israeli TV series "Prisoners" on Hulu and it is fantastic. I've read comments by others who've seen both series, and they say the Israeli one is more gripping and realistic. So I thought I'd just throw that out to your listeners.

Oct. 01 2012 10:48 AM

Ya I love that they are torm wondering if they should tap phones...sheesh

Oct. 01 2012 10:46 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

What the show can't afford to get right is the reality of the vast majority of intelligence work, just as no movie about a composer or a scientist can ever get it right---a shot of someone sitting at a desk (or even a piano), reading and writing (or listening and playing) for cumulative thousands of hours would be too much even for the late Mr Warhol's film experiments, and that is how it gets done. Considering even just the amount of time spent on proper, specialised, languages-learning alone is staggering...but would make for very bad television.

I guess it's a losing battle, but I wish there were a way of helping the public understand actual intelligence work...they might better appreciate those qualities that make for a good analyst, and that would be better for society at large.

Oct. 01 2012 10:09 AM

Is Brody a sympathetic and morally careful friend to freedom fighters? Or is he a secret killing machine built and controlled by terrorists? Would any of this change over time?

This question is the one a thinking person might ask himself, however briefly. It is fascinating as well as important. Usually the line is drawn at whether the killing of non-combatants was the mission, or not.

Last night's episode (presumably) took all of 1 second to answer the question that was turning in our minds all last season.

Even worse, the thinking person's imagination was forced to skip to an entirely new subject -- society's unfair reaction to Brody's secret but righteously innocent-sounding Muslim practices.

Oct. 01 2012 10:08 AM
Lenore from Manhattan

Marcoz, thanks, now that I have Showtime I realize I can do that. But I saw that in the last few episodes that I watched on Saturday and I didn't see that reflected in the general media coverage of this show. Did you, or others who were reading the reviews etc. see much coverage of drones in connection with Homeland?

Oct. 01 2012 09:51 AM
Marcoz from New jersey

Lenore -- Go to Showtime on Demand and you can watch the entire first season. You will see that the drone strike on the school that killed 84 children was the catalyst for Brody's actions...

Oct. 01 2012 09:29 AM
Lenore from Manhattan

I have a question. I missed the first season, and just signed up for Showtime and watched the last three or so episodes on Saturday. What I recall about the coverage of the series last year is that it mainly focused on the two actors, esp. Claire Danes. I don't recall a mention of drones in the coverage of the show. So surprise! Drones turn out to be really important for the series, including a visual sequence which echoes the Wikileaks coverage of our soldiers shooting journalists and civilians there.

Is it fair for me to think that "the media" has pretty much ignored the substantial issues of the war and its conduct in its coverage of this series? And is that a bad thing, but unfortunately typical?

Oct. 01 2012 08:54 AM

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