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We Spy: Espionage and the National Intelligence Agency

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Chapter 4 addresses a final state apparatus of surveillance and social control often depicted in British and American television since 9/11: the national intelligence agency. These agencies and the ethics of intelligence gathering, as it relates to anticipating and preventing terrorism, have remained an issue of concern for post-9/11 British and American television series. This chapter argues that these programs have turned their focus inward on the agency itself, its methods, the morality and purpose of espionage, and how the agency interacts with the public. In other words, espionage dramas post-9/11 articulate concerns about the reason for the spy agency, its adherence to the rule of law, and the extent to which British and American citizens are subject to the agency’s scrutiny.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-16900-8_4
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  1. 1.

    For more on the history and purpose of the CIA, see Richard H. Immerman, The Hidden Hand: A Brief History of the CIA (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2014).

  2. 2.

    For more on the history and purpose of the NSA, see James Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2007) and Bamford, The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America’s Most Secret Agency (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1982).

  3. 3.

    For more on the history and purpose of Mi-5 and Mi-6, see Gordon Thomas, Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside Mi-5 and Mi-6 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

  4. 4.

    For more on the history and purpose of GCHQ, see Richard Aldrich, GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency (New York: HarperPress, 2010).

  5. 5.

    David McDaniel, The Dagger Affair (New York: Ace Books, 1965), 89.

  6. 6.

    See Chap. 1, “Introduction: Surveillance and Terror in Post-9/11 British and American Television,” for discussion and sources on this point.

  7. 7.

    U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Report of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” S. Report 113–288, 113th Congress, 2nd Session, Dec. 9, 2014,

  8. 8.

    U.S. Department of Justice, “The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty,”

  9. 9.


  10. 10.


  11. 11.

    American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Surveillance under the USA/Patriot Act,”

  12. 12.

    See Julia Angwin et al., “AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale,” The New York Times, Aug. 15, 2015,; Jason M. Breslow, “How AT&T Helped the NSA Spy on Millions,” PBS Frontline, Aug. 17, 2015,; Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014); Michael Gurnow, The Edward Snowden Affair: Exposing the Politics and Media Behind the NSA Scandal (Indianapolis, IN: Blue River Press, 2014); and Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2014).

  13. 13.

    Angwin et al., “AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale.”

  14. 14.

    For more on the 1978 Act and the FISA court, see David B. Cohen and John W. Wells, American National Security and Civil Liberties in an Era of Terrorism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Laura K. Donahue, The Future of Foreign Intelligence: Privacy and Surveillance in a Digital Age (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016).

  15. 15.

    James Ball and Spencer Ackerman, “NSA Loophole Allows Warrantless Search for US Citizens’ Emails and Phone Calls,” The Guardian, Aug. 9, 2013,

  16. 16.

    American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Warrantless Surveillance Under Section 702 of FISA,”

  17. 17.

    Michael O’Brien, “Obama Task Force Calls for Overhauls to Surveillance Tactics,” NBC News, Dec. 18, 2013,

  18. 18.

    Shafiqa Ahmadi, “The Patriot Act Gives the U.S. a Bad Reputation,” The New York Times, Sep. 8, 2011,

  19. 19.

    Alexander J. Martin, “How the Edward Snowden Leaks Revealed Unlawful Spying,” Sky News, June 6, 2018,

  20. 20.

    See Ian Cobain and Ewen MacAskill, “Criticism Mounts over UK’s Post-9/11 Role in Torture and Rendition,” The Guardian, June 28, 2018,; Cobain and MacAskill, “True Scale of UK Role in Torture and Rendition after 9/11 Revealed,” The Guardian, June 28, 2018,; and “Former Mi-5 Head: Torture is ‘wrong and never justified’,” BBC News, Sep. 8, 2011,

  21. 21.

    See Owen Bowcott, “GCHQ Data Collection Regime Violated Human Rights, Court Rules,” The Guardian, Sep. 13, 2018,; Nick Hopkins and Julian Borger, “Exclusive: NSA Pays £100m in Secret Funding for GCHQ: Secret Payments Revealed in Leaks by Edward Snowden,” The Guardian, Aug. 1, 2013,; and Nigel Morris, “Edward Snowden: GCHQ Collected Information from Every Visible User on the Internet,” The Independent, Sep. 25, 2015,

  22. 22.

    Alexander Rose, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring (New York: Bantam, 2006). For more on the history of U.S. espionage in general, see Nathan Miller, Spying for America: The Hidden History of U.S. Intelligence (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1989) and Michael J. Sulick, Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War (Washington, DC: Georgetown UP, 2012).

  23. 23.

    Caroline Eastman, “The Revolution Takes A Turn: AMC’s Drama about Washington’s Spies Aims for Moral Complexity,” Perspectives on History: The Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association, Apr. 1, 2014,

  24. 24.

    Eric Goldman, “Turn Creator Craig Silverstein on Showing the Origins of the American Spy Game,” IGN, Apr. 4, 2014,

  25. 25.

    Eastman, “The Revolution Takes a Turn.”

  26. 26.

    Silverstein quoted in Goldman.

  27. 27.


  28. 28.


  29. 29.

    Silverstein quoted in Eastman.

  30. 30.

    Linda Schupack, executive vice president of marketing for AMC and SundanceTV, quoted in Cate Lecuyer Marian, “AMC Taps into Today’s Politics to Promote ‘Turn: Washington’s Spies’,” Promax, July 4, 2016,

  31. 31.


  32. 32.

    For more on the history of state espionage and surveillance, see Terry Crowdy, The Enemy Within: A History of Spies, Spymasters, and Espionage (Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2006); Colonel John Hughes-Wilson, The Secret State: A History of Intelligence and Espionage (New York: Pegasus Books, 2016); and Ernest Volkman, The History of Espionage: The Clandestine World of Surveillance, Spying, and Intelligence from Ancient Times to the Post-9/11 World (London: Carlton Books, 2007).

  33. 33.

    For instance, see the following fascinating range of studies and essays for more on early modern British spycraft: Nadine Akkerman, Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018); Amy Blakeway, “Spies and Intelligence in Scotland, c. 1530–1550,” Crossing Borders: Boundaries and Margins in Medieval and Early Modern Britain, Essays in Honour of Cynthia J. Neville, eds. Sara M. Butler and Krista J. Kesselring (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 83–106; Alan Marshall, Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II, 1660–1685 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003); and Bernard Porter, Plots and Paranoia: A History of Political Espionage in Britain, 1790–1988 (London: Routledge, 2016).

  34. 34.

    See Stephen Alford, The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2012); Stephen Budiansky, Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage (New York: Penguin, 2006); John Cooper, The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England (New York: Open Road Media, 2013); Robert Hutchinson, Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); and Derek Wilson, Sir Francis Walsingham: Courtier in an Age of Terror (Boston: Little, Brown, 2013).

  35. 35.

    Michael Warner, The Rise and Fall of Intelligence: An International Security History (Washington, DC: Georgetown UP, 2014), 1.

  36. 36.

    Ibid., 3.

  37. 37.


  38. 38.

    TV Series Finale: Cancelled and Renewed Television Shows, updated Mar. 26, 2019,

  39. 39.

    See for the subreddit dedicated to the AMC program.

  40. 40.

    Person of Interest , “Lethe,” season 3, episode 11, written by Erik Mountain, directed by Richard J. Lewis, aired on Dec. 17, 2013, by CBS.

  41. 41.

    Person of Interest, “The Devil’s Share,” season 3, episode 10, written by Amanda Segal and Jonathan Nolan, directed by Chris Fisher, aired on Nov. 26, 2013, by CBS.

  42. 42.

    Person of Interest , “The Cold War,” season 4, episode 10, written by Amanda Segal, directed by Michael Offer, aired on Dec. 16, 2014, by CBS.

  43. 43.

    For more on the Cambridge Five, their activities, and the subsequent political fallout, see Richard Davenport-Hines, Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain (London: HarperCollins UK, 2018); Verne W. Newton, The Cambridge Spies: The Untold Story of Maclean, Philby, and Burgess in America (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1993); and Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, eds., Triplex: Secrets from the Cambridge Spies (New Haven: Yale UP, 2009).

  44. 44.

    Person of Interest, “Deus Ex Machina,” season 3, episode 23, written by Greg Plageman and David Slack, directed by Chris Fisher, aired on May 13, 2014, by CBS.

  45. 45.

    Person of Interest, “Panopticon,” season 4, episode 1, written by Erik Mountain and Greg Plageman, directed by Richard J. Lewis, aired on Sep. 23, 2014, by CBS.

  46. 46.

    Spooks: Five Shocking Moments,” The Telegraph, Aug. 11, 2011,

  47. 47.


  48. 48.

    The Night Manager , series 1, episode 5, screenplay by David Farr, based on the novel The Night Manager by John le Carré, directed by Susanne Bier, aired on March 20, 2015, by BBC1.

  49. 49.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” Project Gutenberg, Oct. 23, 2008,

  50. 50.


  51. 51.

    James Gill, “British Drama, Global Budgets: How Co-productions Are Changing the Way TV Gets Made,” Radio Times, March 23, 2017,

  52. 52.


  53. 53.


  54. 54.

    Qtd. in Gill.

  55. 55.


  56. 56.


  57. 57.

    Dominic Patten, “‘The Night Manager’ Ratings Score Best Ever Debut Live + 3 Rises for AMC,” Deadline, Apr. 25, 2016,

  58. 58.

    Benjamin Lee, “Spectre: The Villains, The Women, The Ending—Discuss the Film (with Spoilers!),” The Guardian, Oct. 27, 2015,

  59. 59.

    See, for example, Adam Green, “Normalizing Torture on 24,” The New York Times, May 22, 2005,; Stuart Heritage, “24 under Trump: Why the Hit Show’s Use of Torture Is All-too-relevant,” The Guardian, Jan. 30, 2017,; and Doug Mataconis, “Did ‘24’ Help Make Torture Acceptable?” The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 19, 2014,

  60. 60.

    Mataconis, “Did ‘24’ help make torture acceptable?”

  61. 61.

    For more on the radicalization of British, European, and American Islamic youth, see Rik Coolsaet, Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge: European and American Experiences (London: Ashgate, 2011); House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, “Roots of Violent Radicalisation: Nineteenth Report of Session 2010–12, Vol. 1” (London: The Stationery Office, 2012); Michael Kenney, The Islamic State in Britain: Radicalization and Resilience in an Activist Network (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2018); and Sam Mullins, ‘Home-grown’ Jihad: Understanding Islamist Terrorism in The U.S. and U.K. (Singapore: World Scientific, 2015).

  62. 62.

    Personal interview with Bradford Winters, Nov. 2, 2017, at Dordt College, in Sioux Center, Iowa.

  63. 63.


  64. 64.


  65. 65.


  66. 66.

    June Thomas, “A Conversation with The Americans Showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields,” Slate, Jan. 1, 2013,

  67. 67.

    For more on this scandal, see Ellen Barry, “‘Illegals’ Spy Ring Famed in Lore of Russian Spying,” The New York Times, June 29, 2010,; Jack Barsky and Cindy Coloma, Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2017); Thom Patterson, “The Russian Spies Living Next Door,” CNN, July 19, 2017,; and Shaun Walker, “The Day We Discovered Our Parents were Russian Spies,” The Guardian, May 7, 2016,

  68. 68.

    Olivia B. Waxman, “The Real CIA behind ‘The Americans’,” Time, Jan. 30, 2013,

  69. 69.

    See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin Classics, 2009).

  70. 70.

    Margaret Lyons, “London Spy and the Problem with Contemporary ‘Good’ TV Shows,” Vulture, Jan. 20, 2016,

  71. 71.


  72. 72.

    See, for example, Matthew Alford, “Washington DC’s Role behind the Scenes in Hollywood Goes Deeper Than You Think,” The Independent, Sep. 3, 2017,; Alford and Robbie Graham, “An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse,” The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2008,; Tricia Jenkins, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television, 2nd edition (Austin: U of Texas P, 2016); and Nicholas Schou, “How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood,” The Atlantic, July 14, 2016,

  73. 73.

    See, for example, “Alias’ TV Spy Recruits for Real-Life CIA,” Today, Mar. 10, 2004,; and Martin Bright, “Spooks Pulls in Recruits for Mi-5,” The Guardian, May 25, 2002,

  74. 74.

    Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs, written by Chris Whipple, directed by Gédéon Naudet and Jules Naudet, aired on Nov. 28, 2015, by Showtime.

  75. 75.

    Modern Spies , directed by Mike Rudin, aired on April 2, 2012, by BBC2.

  76. 76.

    Walker, “The Day We Discovered Our Parents were Russian Spies.”


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Rives-East, D. (2019). We Spy: Espionage and the National Intelligence Agency. In: Surveillance and Terror in Post-9/11 British and American Television. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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