Mission Impossible: How The C.I.A. Shaped Hollywood Spies

Alex Mell-Taylor
10 min readAug 12, 2018

The CIA has been influencing Hollywood for years.

For many, the Mission Impossible movies are fun action flicks that portray agent Ethan Hunt of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) as he gallivants around the world to foil dastardly plots from evil supervillains. Ethan is cut from the same cloth as James Bond, and Jason Bourne (subtle alliteration, I know), except this series, doesn’t bother with the moral ambiguity of many, modern-day spy thrillers. It’s about high-speed chases, explosions, crosses, and doubles-crosses. The actions of Ethan and his US-based agency are depicted as unquestionably noble, which given the nature of U.S. foreign policy in real life, makes it harmful propaganda meant to portray U.S. foreign interventions in a heroic light. This propaganda is not coincidental and is the work of years of behind-the-scenes lobbying.

Propaganda is a loaded word. My go-to association with the term is WWII videos about patriotism, but to those not binging 1940s historical dramas, it might be the image of Che Guevara or the use of the fake news by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. Most people probably don’t have a working definition of propaganda, but most likely do have an informal sense of what propaganda is: terrible people maliciously spreading false information to make bad stuff happen. Nazi’s demonizing non-Aryan people. Mao’s little red book. Donald Trump trashing the mainstream media. These are all perfect examples of propaganda.

The reality, though, is more complicated. People like Donald Trump undoubtedly disseminate propaganda, but their hateful comments aren’t the only type of propaganda to exist. The word propaganda comes from the Latin verb propagare, meaning “to propagate, to disseminate, or to spread.” It is just the term we use for ideas and beliefs that are intentionally spread. Propaganda has been used as long as intellectual divisions have existed. It has been used to promote both bad and good ideas.