I recently rewatched “Three Days of the Condor” (1975) featuring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. It’s a smart and understated spy thriller that takes on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the deadly games the agency plays in its pursuit of global dominance. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the backlash from Richard Nixon and Watergate, not to mention America’s role in overthrowing the Allende government in Chile in 1973, it became acceptable in Hollywood to make films that portrayed the U.S. government as sometimes less than noble in all its pursuits.
Condor, the codename for Redford’s character, stumbles across a plot within the CIA to overthrow governments in the Middle East so that U.S. corporations could dominate the oil market, and for that he and his colleagues in the special branch where he works must die. The movie follows his efforts to stay alive among people who will execute their own for the greater good of The Company (the CIA).
At the end (spoiler alert), Redford goes to the New York Times as a whistleblower in an effort both to stay alive and to reveal the nefarious machinations of the CIA. A CIA senior official, played by Cliff Robertson, confronts Redford and asks him a question that is deadly in its implications: Will they print it? Redford is confident the newspaper will, but Robertson, in asking Redford how he can be sure that they will, reminds us that there’s no certainty the “liberal” New York Times will go against the wishes of the CIA.
This was on my mind today as news broke once again that the CIA is collecting “bulk data” on Americans without Congressional authorization and outside of normal oversight. Well, as some of my students used to say, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from the diligent and honest agents of the CIA, right?
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There’s a little scene in the movie where Condor laughs at the conceit of the CIA in referring to themselves as the intelligence “community.” A community of powerful and ultra-secretive intelligence agencies — I’m sure we have nothing to fear from such an Orwellian concoction.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen “Three Days of the Condor,” I recommend it. As a bonus, it has one of the most powerful yet understated romantic relationships caught on film, with Redford and Dunaway both superb in portraying two people on the edge who are desperately looking for connection.