The CIA provides endless fodder for screenwriters -- think "Mission Impossible" and "The Bourne Identity." According to the agency's Hollywood liaison, sometimes filmmakers get it right, sometimes they don't.
Chase Brandon, a 32-year CIA veteran, said that often filmmakers consult with the agency. He worked on "In the Company of Spies," "The Recruit" and "The Sum of All Fears," all of which he said accurately portray the agency. However, the CIA did not contribute to the newest George Clooney film, "Syriana."
In the movie, Clooney's character orders a murder. Brandon said "it's just a movie," and in fiction, filmmakers are free to do whatever they want. "Syriana," however, is based on a book by an ex-CIA agent.
It is not that fiction doesn't come close to facts, it's just that most of what happens in the movies is much more intense, he says. The plots are usually life or death situations, which is not always the case in real agency work, Brandon said. He was undercover for 25 years. He said movie makers and audiences like to see things explode.
"Mission Impossible" represents a movie that is a bit too extreme for Brandon's taste.
"The peel-off masks are little over the top," he said.
James Bond, he said, would be the worst spy ever. He made no secret of who he was and was constantly engaged in bloody fights and dramatic escapes.
"You're not doing your job," Brandon said of the fictional British agent 007. "The whole point is to not be obvious."
The ABC television show "Alias" has it pretty close to right, Brandon said.
"Sydney Bristow is dynamic, smart, fit, gifted with languages, creative when she needs to be, and enormously dedicated and patriotic," he said of the main character. "That's exactly what we want our officers to be."
The difficulty in making a movie about the CIA is that so much of the agency's work is supposed to go unnoticed by the average person. Movies like "The Sum of All Fears" and "In the Company of Spies" do a good job of not just showing dangerous missions, but also the interplay between officers and the relationships that develop within the agency. The "heart of the movies is in the right place," Brandon said. They show the CIA agents' complicated existence.
"It's not a career. It's not a job," he said. "It's a lifestyle."