Hey there, inaugural SpyTalkers. I’m writing to thank you for signing up—and in droves. It’s been barely over a week since I made some quiet announcements on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook that SpyTalk was forming, mostly because some longtime pals and fans posted a few supportive notes and the secret was out.
In time, we’ll roll out a full marketing drive to expand our reach into what’s been SpyTalk’s core audiences since it debuted at Congressional Quarterly 15 years ago—the spooks themselves (current and former), congressional oversight committees, think tanks, national security programs at universities, media outlets, intelligence-contractors, and of course, ordinary folks who just like reading about spies and secrets.
Speaking of which, we’re also going to take note of interesting new books, TV shows and movies dealing with spies and international intrigue. Why be serious all the time? Some of the best dramas hew so closely to reality they make my hands tingle. A couple years ago it was The Looming Tower, the TV adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s terrific book on the FBI, CIA and the run-up to 9/11 (still available for streaming on Hulu). To my mind, Tahar Rahim’s portrayal of FBI special agent Ali Soufan on the trail of Al Qaeda was spot on—and instructive. Then there was The Report, the riveting docudrama starring Adam Driver as Senate Intelligence Committee investigator Daniel J. Jones, tasked with looking into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program.
This summer, the Covid-19 shut down gave me time to catch up on The Bureau, an absolutely compelling French spy drama that’s just wrapped up its fifth season on the Sundance channel. For espionage buffs, its plethora of double agents, dirty tricks and technical espionage wizardry amount to what I like to joke about as tradecraft porn. And I think its portrayal of power struggles and paranoia inside the DGSE, France’s CIA, is the best thing since the BBC’s 1982 adaptation of John LeCarré’s Smiley’s People. It’s that good, I think, but you can let me know right here.
Of course, there’s no getting away from serious reportage on what’s going on inside our embattled national security agencies, especially the revolving doors at the top of them come January, whoever is president. We’ll certainly be tracking those changes. But our ongoing subject is the intersection of intelligence activities with U.S. foreign and defense policies—and our adversaries’s. And for that I think our format will be pretty special.
On many days, we’ll have a mix of short, insider items and scooplets plucked from overlooked congressional hearing transcripts, GAO and IG reports and the release of declassified documents and think tank studies. On other days we might include an item or two like that plus a compact piece of original reporting and analysis on a current development that the mainstream media has only thinly reported or, we think, misunderstood. From time to time we also expect to feature a single deep dive, an investigative series, or a blockbuster that we hope will draw national and even global attention. In any event, with every story we publish, we aim to earn your trust and loyalty—and have some fun along the way.
See you in September.—Jeff Stein