I haven’t seen the movie Top Gun, and I won’t bother seeing the much anticipated sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. Why should I? If I wanted to see a movie produced by the Pentagon or the CIA, I would just watch Animal Farm.
Seriously. In perhaps the most ironic moment in the history of literature, the CIA actually made an animated movie version of Animal Farm. Of course, they rewrote Orwell’s ending to fit the message. CIA operative Howard Hunt, of Watergate fame, would recall in his memoir that they "tweaked [it] to heighten the anti-Communist message, and distribute it throughout the world in the hope that it would be seen by parents and children alike."
Other key contributors to the movie included Hollywood producer and agent Carleton Alsop and scriptwriter Finis Farr, who were both actually with the CIA. The CIA followed this project up by acquiring the rights to 1984. You got it: Big Brother owns Big Brother.
Through information acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joseph Trevithick has reported that the Department of Defense was "closely involved" in the production of Top Gun: Maverick. The Department of Defense provided assets, equipment and locations to the producers. They had a constant presence on the set whenever the US military was being portrayed in the movie. The Department of Defense approved parts of the script and reserved the right to sign off on any changes.
Though this Pentagon involvement in Top Gun: Maverick is significant and worrisome, it is not as intrusive as the Pentagon, State Department and CIA have been in past Hollywood collaborations.
In modern times, The State Department doubled as director for The Interview, with an artistic eye toward encouraging thoughts of regime change in North Korea. Leaked emails reveal that at least two US government officials screened a rough cut of The Interview and gave the film their approval. The emails reveal that the State Department was involved in Sony’s decision to keep the scene of the death of Kim Jong-Un in the final cut of the film. Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton admits that they “Spoke to someone very senior in State.” The leaked emails also reveal that U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, Robert King, was also consulting on The Interview.
The CIA would use the movie Zero Dark Thirty as a vehicle for selling its justification of torture. According to the screen writer, Mark Boal, he was given access to firsthand accounts by the CIA. And Obama administration officials admit that Boal was given access to officials from the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House. Gareth Porter says that “Those meetings ensured Zero Dark Thirty would tell a story that suited the interests of those seeking to protect the CIA’s reputation.”
But the history of CIA involvement in Hollywood is an old one. In Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers, Joel Whitney says the US developed the idea of "militant liberty" for the perfect Hollywood film: "the goal was ‘to insert in their scripts and in their action the right ideas with the proper subtlety’" to project "American-style democratic values" in propaganda battle of the Cold War.
Whitney says that in 1955, the Joint Chiefs of Staff plotted on how to insert militant liberty into Hollywood movies. They actually had a meeting with top Hollywood figures at the MGM Studios office of director John Ford. Apparently, the meeting so excited John Wayne that he became an early member of the project. Ford was on board too. He committed to the project and, according to Whitney, "even asked for a consultant from the Joint Chiefs to help insert the concept [of militant liberty] into his movie The Wings of Eagles. . . ."
The CIA would go so far as to have operatives infiltrate Hollywood studios. Paramount Studios even had an executive and censor who was a CIA operative who made sure Paramount’s movies cut out any anti-American content or criticism of US foreign policy.
In 1953, the CIA launched a campaign to make sure the Gary Cooper film High Noon did not win an Academy Award. In 2013, Whitney says, they tried to ensure that two CIA films, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo did: Argo won.
Pentagon involvement in the production of Top Gun: Maverick is just the latest scene in a long story of US military and intelligence use of Hollywood movies to shape popular culture in a way that fits America’s narrative of the world.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.