The following two reviews of The Good Shepherd appear in the forthcoming issue of AFIO's Intelligencer Journal coming out January 2007. Since we've had a number of requests to release these reviews on the website while members are considering the film, we do so here. Beware that some of the comments are plot spoilers, so if you do not like surprises in a film revealed, see the film first. These comments reflect the views of two people -- Gen. John K. Singlaub, Chairman, OSS Society, and Elizabeth Bancroft, AFIO's Executive Director -- and do not represent any official views of AFIO, the OSS Society, nor our members. We welcome your own comments once you've seen the film. Send them to us at

Singlaub Critique of “The Good Shepherd”

On Wednesday 13 December I attended a pre-release showing of the film, "The Good Shepherd" at the Motion Picture Association of America in downtown Washington, DC. I was invited because I am a former officer of both the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the time depicted in the film. I had expected to be asked by the producers of the film for my comments after the viewing. No such opportunity was made available to those of us who were still present when the film was over. In view of the significant number of promotional ads now underway, I feel an obligation to make my views known.

The following comments are my unedited notes recorded after the viewing:

1. The film was introduced by former Congressman, Dan Glickman who is now the President of the MPAA. Glickman pointed out that he served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and is aware that this film is not a documentary but will be remembered by future generations as the history of OSS and the formation of CIA. These remarks were interpreted by me to mean we should not nit pick but accept the artistic license exercised by the authors to create a more dramatic final product. This would be OK if the end product had some reasonable relationship to the real history of the two agencies. In my view, it does not.

2. At the outset, let me say that the performance of the actors is truly outstanding and the technical aspects of production are all of the highest quality. My great disappointment is with the script and the carefully crafted impression generated by it that the leadership of the two organizations was made up of a group of affluent but amoral Ivy League graduates whose loyalties were more to their university and its secret society than to the Nation they volunteered to serve.

3. My advice to friends and relatives is to disregard the hype associated with this film. This is not a fictional history of the OSS and its successor, CIA. It appears to me to be a collection of all of the evil doings imagined and fabricated by our enemies and those disaffected employees searching for a scapegoat. I don’t want my grandchildren to see it and remember only that I was a member of those secret organizations that committed the crimes and immorality shown in such spellbinding realism.

4. Unlike the normal use of pseudonyms “to protect the innocent,” in this film fictitious names have been assigned to OSS and CIA officials who have been depicted as evil, dishonest and corrupt. This appears to have been done to prevent the officials or their families from filing law suits for libel for the terribly degrading, illegal and totally false actions attributed to the members of the intelligence community by the authors.

5. Adding to efforts to defame the reputation of members of the intelligence community who have been subjected to so many indignities, the name of the character played by Matt Damon is given as Ed Wilson. The real Ed Wilson is a convicted traitor who has done time in a maximum security federal prison for providing training and high quality explosives to Libyan terrorists. He had nothing to do with the counter-espionage office that Matt Damon headed in the movie but the name is associated with the well known illegal activity of a retired CIA agent. The use of this discredited name appears to be another way of dishonoring CIA.

6. In another interesting case related to the casting for the film, the producers selected another well known actor for a significant role as the CIA’s liaison contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Alec Baldwin is rated as an accomplished actor and is also well known for his political activism and his often repeated hatred for the United States and especially its President, George Bush. One of his most memorable political acts was his promise to leave the country for good if George Bush was reelected. Now that Baldwin has become an expert on the Central Intelligence Agency as a result of working on the film for several years, he is now sharing his great wisdom with all who will listen. He is now demanding that the CIA be totally abolished. After all, anyone who sees “The Good Shepherd,” will know how bad they are and what a great threat the Agency is to our Nation.

7. General William J. Donovan commanded the OSS from its activation in 1942 until it was inactivated by President Truman in September 1945. The assets of OSS were assigned to the War Department and designated the Strategic Services Unit (SSU). Donovan returned to the practice of law in New York and held no position in the U.S. Government during the post war period. The film gives the impression that he was engaged actively in the formation of the CIA in August 1947 and in actual operations thereafter. From personal observations during my service in the OSS and CIA from 1943 through 1952 and from other veterans with longer service in the Agency, I am unable to find any person or any evidence that supports the contention of the authors that General Donovan was so involved. In fact, he was specifically excluded from such activity.

8. My negative reaction to this film is perhaps enhanced by the contrast between it and a ceremony I attended the night before. At his Residency, the French Ambassador hosted a ceremony honoring the unusual and repeated heroism of Virginia Hall, an OSS agent, who brought great credit to herself and to the country she represented in the struggle against the Nazis. The British Ambassador also participated by reading the formal citation for the award of the Order of the British Empire. The award had been made years earlier but the citation remained classified in a London safe until now. Those present included the few surviving members of Miss Hall’s family, OSS veterans, officials of the French and British Embassies, US State Department representatives, the newly elected Governor of Miss Hall’s home state of Maryland, and representatives of CIA who came to accept a large portrait of Miss Hall, prepared by the French Government, and to be hung in CIA Headquarters.

9. With a film like this one that concentrates on the unsubstantiated accusations, claims and charges of the sworn enemies of our country and emphasizes the ugly, cowardly and selfish behavior of some humans under pressure, to the exclusion of the generally patriotic, humane and selfless service of our citizens during periods of conflict and national survival, will leave future generations with a totally false impression of why we fought and survived with honor.

John K. Singlaub

Elizabeth Bancroft Critique of “The Good Shepherd” and "Breach"

I finally had a chance to see The Good Shepherd. The movie is entertainment and fiction, it is not a documentary. It is based on a very loose history of OSS and CIA, without adherence to facts but focuses on the internal/external turmoil of a life of secrecy....the demands its places on one's marriage, children, colleagues, friendships and self. The film takes an assortment of famous CIA and OSS situations, successes, mishaps, officers, and cases, and shakes them up, recombines, to recreate what it might be like to experience all of it during a long career with the firm. So one does not arrive at this film ready to catalog the things that are historically wrong. Most of it never happened as portrayed here -- so indeed it is wrong. That was not their goal, but to convey the murkiness of intelligence operations and the impact of secrecy and betrayal -- its deforming impact on some -- on those who have chosen the intelligence profession seeking to do good for the country they love.

The nurturing of secrecy via Skull & Bones, the secrecy of classified government work, the secrets and betrayals of a compartmented, personal life [affairs, alcoholism, suicides], childhood secrets, marriage secrets, secrets of colleagues....all of it leads to distrust, emotional blunting and misjudgments when the guard slips. Yet, as humans, a 100% guarded life is not worth living - it is a facsimile of existence, as we see in the central stoic character, Ed Wilson, played by Matt Damon [depicted as an Angleton-variant called "Mother"]. He wants to trust the defector - Valentin Mironov [a Golitsyn-like figure] - he has let advise him and eschews demands that Mironov take a polygraph, though when the two watch a newly arrived defector claiming to be the real Mironov who is subjected to a Nosenko-style debriefing [a mixture of the real Nosenko case and the Olson LSD defenestration mishap] it leaves anyone doubting Mironov #1. And, in the end, distrust wins out and Mother springs a pop quiz: can Mironov play the violin. He passes the test...but even that doesn't prove bona fides. Knowing you know something for sure, remains elusive and unknowable. The film shows that wilderness of mirrors faced by counterintelligence officers who come to suspect everyone -- each fact leading to another twist that makes it possibly untrue. And this air of doubt permeates their lives: just as his wife and son [justifiably] come to distrust him.

Tacitly accepting to have an unacceptable intended daughter-in-law -- a tainted intelligence pawn -- tossed off a plane as a favor from a KGB colleague, while shocking, clever, an espionage tit-for-tat, is unlikely in the real world...but has enough plausibility to work in the film. As do several of the other eliminations - e.g., the "accidental violent death" of the burned out gay college 'recruiter' [an Anthony Blunt/Alan Turing mixture], and one other assassination as payback for betrayal by an interpreter. More akin to organized crime than the U.S. intelligence community, but on second thought, realistic enough to be seen as a Mossad or KGB wet affairs solution. In an era of Polonium poisoning of former intelligence colleagues, this is authentic enough for viewers seeking that ring of truth. And intelligence officers know that "ring of truth" can also be just good propaganda or a great legend.

For a public seeking entertainment, wanting to dip into the muddy waters of the world of OSS and CIA, the immense historical dislocations of this film will go unnoticed. The film will interest viewers who can tolerate the slow pace, the sweeping span of time, the glacial character development, the almost gray, coolness of the film's take on emotions [almost none] -- while it portrays the decades of a young man's career serving as an intelligence officer, moving up through assignments and departments. It leaves out the feisty, intellectual character of OSS and CIA, the clarity of many operations, the pleasures, camaraderie and even some of the hijinks of overseas assignments by hundreds of dedicated officers, and their unimpeachable, honorable behavior and good intentions during long, distinguished [and totally unsung] careers. Had it been a documentary, we would call it a total sham. But as a work of fiction, filled with a deliberate le Carré fog injected for realism and entertainment, it succeeds. Some historians and intelligence officers have already voiced outrage at the misrepresentations and jumbled history; appropriate if this were a documentary. As total fiction, made to look as realistic as possible by using familiar situations, names and locations -- but completely out of context -- we suggest you enjoy the beautifully crafted atmospherics, don't over-analyze it nor expect historical precision.

Review by Elizabeth Bancroft, Executive Director, AFIO
© 2006, AFIO [Association of Former Intelligence Officers], All Rights Reserved.
Intelligencer Journal, Winter 2006


Breach examines the f inal two months [for the Bureau, an especially convenient slice—I’ll come back to that later], as the FBI narrowed the search to the guilty party in their midst: Robert Philip Hanssen, a key Bureau counterintelligence officer, spying for the Soviets, later the Russians.

The Bureau’s Investigation of ‘Ramon Garcia ’

Once the Bureau gets in action, it is an impressive machine—and the film shows that in an understated way. When it became clear that the spy “Ramon Garcia” was Hanssen, we see the Bureau bringing in 500 trained agents and other experts, tracking a vast array of phone logs, TDYs and travels, bank withdrawals and deposits, audio and video surveillance, down to the smallest evidentiary DNA needed to make an espionage case stick. Which is not always possible [e.g., Katrina Leung, Wen Ho Lee come to mind], but fortunately this one worked. These cases are tough to win because “being caught in the act” is what agile spies avoid. Do it right, but above all, never be observed and never get caught. If caught, leave little hard evidence. Hanssen was fairly proficient at this...up until his arrest, but only after years of classified thievery for the Russians—and the deaths of many brave foreign recruitments. And he only lasted this long because his wife, FBI brother-in-law, and even convicted FBI spy Earl Pitts, who knew or suspected him of this activity, were either ignored by the Bureau when suspicions about Hanssen were brought to their attention, or in the case of Bonnie Hanssen, never said anything, as she benefited mightily from all the available cash.

The Acting

The film deserves exaltation for the fine acting provided by Chris Cooper as Hanssen, Ryan Phillipe as Eric O’Neill - the young “G” who wants to become an agent and has his career goals halted through breaking this “case of a lifetime,” and Laura Linney as Kate Burroughs, married to the Bureau [eats mainly TV dinners, lives alone, has no pets or plants], heading up the investigation to which she appears to have devoted much of her career. Linney provides a nuanced performance as a dedicated counterintelligence officer in search of prey—similar to CIA’s Jeanne Vertefeuille whose single-minded focus and unusual instincts lead her to CIA traitor Rick Ames which did the trick in that case.

Burroughs is now so close to making a capture, we sense the inner frenzy restrained by years of training and the sangfroid needed at endgame when so much still can go wrong. Ryan Phillipe’s Eric O’Neill is a newbie thrown into the middle of the investigation, with scant training but immense people smarts [the skills Hanssen lacks] to finesse his way into Hanssen’s trust, but does so while losing his taste—as does his young wife—for a long career with the Bureau ‘family.’ Chris Cooper’s Hanssen is more bitter and aggressive than the real laid-back and oafish Bob Hanssen, but he captures the mannerisms, the stoop, as well as the preachifying that made him seem a harmless social oddity rather than the anomic mole he was.

If So Different, Why Not Caught Earlier?

“Loner” “Aloof” “Misfit” are the words trotted out when someone is caught, as associates and institutions rush to disassociate and demonize the suddenly guilty. Don’t believe it. There was not enough strangeness about Hanssen that would make him stand out from the variants one sees in professionals in intelligence agencies throughout the U.S. Government—the most hand-picked and scrutinized employees in the country. Particularly those with a demand for highly educated personnel in some fairly esoteric disciplines. Most are effective, dedicated employees, experts—some geniuses—trustworthy but with characteristics that have them at either end of the bell curve for social normalcy.

So there should be no fingerwagging as to why the CI personnel did not immediately focus on a “floridly different” Agent. While under the microscope of this film Agent Hanssen might appear worthy of immediate attention; in a day-to-day context, people like this do not stand out from the vast array of different personalities one meets, all entrusted with classified information, and capable of committing espionage. Eccentrics in general have not fitted the mole profile; rather it has been the ones that blend in best who prove to be the most dangerous and hardest to find.

And in the Bureau, with its long history of disregard for computers and geeks—especially amongst Agents— Hanssen’s differentness only conf irmed what cohorts expected of those who excelled at those confounding damn boxes they had—and ignored—in their offices.

He Wanted To Be The Smartest Guy In The Room

The most often stated disappointment of early film reviewers was that the movie fails to provide Hanssen’s motivations. Why—with a great job, loving wife and six children, great colleagues, public respect—did he spy? I disagree. In almost every scene we see why he was doing it. And at the end of the film he makes clear a few additional reasons. Unfortunately they are motivations nearly impossible to detect, and even harder to filter out from pools of future applicants. As he says, there was secret delight participating in the investigation for the mole, knowing all along he was the target. And there he was, enjoying the opportunity to steer them down one blind path after another, compromising their operations. Moving some of the pieces on the board, hoping the searchlight never fell in his direction. He enjoyed the power and thrill of hiding in plain sight.

How Did He Turn Out Like This?

The film suggests it started with the father who rigged his failure at getting a driver’s license as a misguided attempt to toughen up his son; instead it sets Hanssen on a lifetime path of “getting even” at those—like the father—who underrate him, think they are smarter or socially adept. Whether this was the first betrayal or not, Hanssen was not about to be sucker-punched again. As his social awkwardness continued into maturity, it became submerged in a deadening of feeling, and caused him to hunger for something that wife, family, church and career could not provide.

One ego crutch was the uber-religiosity of the Catholic Church’s Opus Dei...and when that didn’t quell his lack of comfort in his own skin, there was the release found in dalliance with the stripper, and pornography. The church provided the holiness that let him reduce others to imperfect, vaguely unscrupulous nonentities he could betray the way one flicks a crumb off a tablecloth, while the occasional dip into porn provided sensations that pierced the numbness.

Better Than Sex

The only hotter action: spying. Risk-taking and betrayal made him feel more alive than anything else; sub rosa payback to those who had underrated him. As a sexual and religious deviant, who hid behind geekiness and moral superiority, he made betrayal his specialty...relishing private amusement over what he considered the lesser, irreligious beings around him. We know from the history of the case he betrays his wife with a stripper [the film leaves this out since the stripper was already out of his orbit in the two months prior to his arrest], uploads pornography about his wife on the internet and sends videotapes of their lovemaking to a male friend, betrays the church by confessing to sins he continues doing, betrays his intelligence colleagues through extensive spying undercutting all their years of effort, and betrays the nation which trusted him with the secrets for its very survival in the event of nuclear attack. In the end, even after a sweetheart deal his lawyer, Plato Cacheris, gets him [and Bonnie] contingent on his telling all, he continues to dissimulate and jeer at what he considers the stupidity of colleagues, the American public, the system.

One sees a variety of his sneers throughout the film... when he is viewing the better parking spaces of the top brass at HQ, the window offices he’ll never have, the hordes of computer-averse agents, and those faces of bright, intelligent and sometimes aggressive colleagues in the halls and elevators—honorable professionals seeking to do a tough public mission. To Hanssen, they are too ordinary, unimpressed by his skills, filled with false bravado and shallow, but they all knew how to get fit in. For Bob Hanssen, that was the one program, the one algorithm, this geeky computer addict could never master. And we all were going to pay because of it.

But his greatest loathing, as the film shows, he reserved for the politically astute—those who knew which rings to kiss, which requests to ignore, how to watch your flanks, when to ingratiate, who can get your ideas a fair hearing, and how to get to a higher grade. Hanssen could see the players, knew the game, but saw them as impediments to be run over or bypassed. He had no sense of the political rules, didn’t want to know them. Rules—not of his making—were for dummies.

Once this mole was identified by the Bureau, it is interesting that there were no coded messages or, as in the Felix Bloch case, calls from a Russian handler warning “you’ve got the flu.” A good sign there might have been no others watching—no bigger mole—ready to warn, protect, or exfiltrate this Bureau spy, about to be flushed from hiding. Or, as some have suggested, he was now expendable. With retirement imminent and his productivity waning, who knows?…the Russians might have cleverly handed him up, avoiding payment of any money it claimed it had set aside, while another Russian pockets $7 million from the info-for-money swap with the Bureau that eventually shut Hanssen down. Russians 1, Americans 0.

The Slice: Why Just Two Months?

Prior to the purchase of the incontrovertible proof of Hanssen’s perfidy, which the FBI obtained with a $7 million purchase of files and tapes from a Soviet source, the Bureau had put immense pressure—wrongly —for eighteen months on CIA Officer Brian Kelley. Despite little evidence. When these cases break, every agency is hoping it isn’t one of their own. The Bureau was convinced it couldn’t be one of theirs and with Kelley living in the same neighborhood as Hanssen, and jogging along some of the drop site paths, and “not” from the FBI, he became an ideal person of interest.

Unfortunately, their relentless and very public “interest” ruined Kelley’s career, in the same way they had ruined the life of Richard Jewell, who they falsely implicated in the Olympic Park bombings (the bomber turned out to be Eric Robert Rudolph), and the same way they have destroyed the career of military virologist Dr. Stephen Hatfield, by making him publicly known as “a person-of-interest” in the still-unsolved anthrax letters investigation.

What the film leaves out is how long it took the Bureau to finally accept they had the wrong man and, after much prodding, agree to look closer to home at the Agents with access to the compromised names and operations, who had never been polygraphed [Hanssen assiduously avoided any posting that came with being fluttered], eventually discovering that Hanssen was the mole. They have yet to formally apologize to Kelley, though one suspects that might be more a case that a public apology increases exposure to legal action in this litigious era.

And last, for the film to include all the years of the twists and blind alleys the intelligence community underwent from that day in the mid-1980s when the Bureau first realized they were losing valuable Soviet assets, and ruled out Aldrich Hazen Ames, and then Edward Lee Howard as the reason, would have made the film far too long or incomprehensibly dense.

Leaving out these missteps gives the illusion that the dots were easy to connect, and that there was little collateral damage. There should be a post-Hanssen film and it deserves to be told as well as director Billy Ray has presented here—the final two months—in Breach. See it.

Review by Elizabeth Bancroft, Executive Director, AFIO
© 2007, AFIO [Association of Former Intelligence Officers], All Rights Reserved.
Intelligencer Journal, Winter 2006-2007