Tales of the wiretap!

Bruce Feirstein in the NY Observer has a witty take on the “scandal.”

For almost 10 years, almost everyone who labors in the made-up spy trade has used the National Security Agency—and Echelon—as the all-purpose, all-knowing, “this-is-your-worst-nightmare-of-government” Big Brother stand-in of choice. We all know the key words that trigger Echelon. They’re listed on hundreds of Web sites. We all watched Steve Kroft’s Sixty Minutes report in February 2000, exposing the potential abuses of the system and its use by the Clinton administration. And more than a few of us have read the first-ever mention of Echelon in the press: A cover story in the June 18, 1988, issue of The New Statesman titled “Someone’s Listening,” involving Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and intercepts of phone calls made by Senator Strom Thurmond.

So what does this all add up to?

For the past decade, whenever a screenwriter got into script trouble and needed to insert some incredibly arcane information to advance the plot, the solution was always the same: Have Tom Cruise (or one of the Sutherlands) step into the back of an unmarked white panel truck, where Ving Rhames is sitting in front of a computer screen.

“I need an arcane piece of information to advance the plot,” the guy would announce.

“No problem,” Ving replies. “I’ll just hack into Echelon.” And with a mere two keystrokes, we’re onto the next action sequence.

(A brief sociological aside: Try as I might, I can’t pinpoint the exact date when the “muscle-bound black guy” replaced the “dissipated white nerd” as Hollywood’s preferred casting choice for the obligatory computer geek. But I’m sure somebody is looking into it right now for their master’s degree in cinema studies.)

Anyway, with all this in mind, I decided to put in a call to Ving. Herewith, the results:

N.S.A. Echelon Intercept 22-31-34523: Anderson Cooper, anchorman; Jon Klein, president, CNN/US.

KLEIN: You’ve got to work the empathy angle, Anderson. Win their trust. Make it personal. That’s the only way we’re going to win.

COOPER: I like the shots they’re using of me in the billboards, and the adverting. Cool but caring. Still …. I’m worried it’s a little bit of overkill. And to be honest, I feel sort of bad about—what’s his name. Aaron. Aaron Brown. Vaporized.

KLEIN: Forget him. He was a foot soldier. He had to be sacrificed. This is war.

You’ll want to read the whole thing!

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