Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An unelected bureaucrat disagrees with the president, and decides to take matters into his own hands. Classified material is leaked to the press, and we learn America is a corrupt war machine. Fin.
No, this isn’t the story of the Ukraine leaks, it’s “The Report,” a new movie on Amazon Prime, starring acclaimed actor and Star Wars star Adam Driver. It’s brought to you by Vice, which is a website or magazine most of the time, but also does movies apparently.
“The Report” tells the allegedly true story of Dan Jones, who we’re supposed to believe is a super patriot who loves justice and thinks the CIA interrogation program is torture. Jones heads a team of investigators from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a job he was appointed to by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (played by Annette Benning, who looks just like Feinstein. Hat tip to the hair and make-up team). The evil forces of practicality and reality eventually squash Jones’ plans to release thousands of pages of classified information to the public, but several hundred pages still come out.
And that’s about it.
This film is dull – not as bad as “Camp X-Ray,” but much worse than “Road to Guantanamo.” It spends a lot of time showing Jones working alone, or in meetings where he comes off as rash or emotionally upset. The audience understands the point after the first of these scenes, but then we are subjected to a dozen or so more of them for good measure. And please don’t play a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone tells Jones he looks tired or asks about his non-existent social and love life. You will end up in a coma.
Jones is supposed to be a sympathetic character, but everyone else seems more reasonable. Feinstein, John Brennan (convincingly played by Ted Levine, famous for his “it places the lotion in the basket” role in “Silence of the Lambs”), Cofer Black, President Obama, Sen. John McCain, a fictional lawyer, the CIA, and even the main villains come across as doing something other than worrying and complaining.
We’re supposed to hear that Dan’s report is 6,000 pages long, that he reviewed millions of pages of CIA files, and think, “Oh, that’s a lot of work.” By focusing on Jones’ uncompromising and obsessive interactions with everyone, the audience is left with more a sense that Jones is suffering from significant mental health issues.
Fact and Fiction
Over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that he saw that film. He called it “fiction.” I think we can forgive the former director of the CIA for his gentle hyperbole. The scary part of “The Report” is not the parts that are mischaracterized or left out, although those are huge problems. The problem is the parts of it that are real.
Dan Jones is real. So we have good reason to look at him and to question the accuracy of his narrative. More recently, Jones has been in the news for spreading misinformation on behalf of Democrats, but more on that later. The best construction on his behavior is that he’s a lousy analyst and investigator. Another explanation is that he’s a liar.
Much of the intrigue and pouting faces in the film are caused by Jones’s allegations that the CIA “spied” on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) investigative staff. The film paints this as possibly due to Jones’ removal of a classified report from a secure office to his own office. He is shown putting it in a safe, which might be an appropriate place for it, but it might not. Luckily the film doesn’t get too far into the weeds on proper marking and handling of classified materials, because that’s even less fun than watching Jones be sad.
But we can all agree Jones removed the report in the film. The character knows this violates policy and possibly federal law, so the CIA’s investigation into the missing document is actually appropriate.
In reality, there were other reasons to investigate the SSCI team working for Jones. There was a steady stream of leaks of classified information that started after the SSCI investigation began. The team was run by Democratic staff, like Jones. To this day, the narrative continues to be “the CIA spied on Congress, which was just trying to do oversight.”
Here’s the truth. Jones’ office was in a CIA building. Jones’ computer was owned and operated by the CIA. The CIA, while investigating leaks of their data, looked at a computer system they owned and operated. Jones had a login and password, but this was hardly a congressional office, or a congressional system.
Maybe Jones didn’t leak things to the press, but someone from SSCI did. That someone could have been James Wolfe, who was having the affair with reporter Ali Watkins. Wolfe was an SSCI staff member who was in charge of making sure people followed security practices correctly. Watkins, when she was 22 years old, was part of a team at McClatchy who were finalists for a Pulitzer Prize writing about… the torture report.
Wolfe was arrested. Yes, this really happened. It’s not fiction. It’s also not in the movie. (Also recall that Clint Eastwood’s latest film was severely criticized for daring to suggest that a reporter might have had an inappropriate relationship with an FBI agent, because supposedly this sort of thing never happens in real life.) The end of the film shows Jones walking down the National Mall, looking grim, and mentions how no one ever went to jail.
But what ever happened to Jones? Oh, don’t worry. he landed on his feet. He gathered $50 million and pushed dubious Russia collusion conspiracies about Donald Trump to the press for three years. It’s called the “Democracy Integrity Project” and Paul Sperry wrote a great article about it in 2019.
Most people know Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, Christopher Steele, and their role in spreading the Russia-collusion narrative. They were merely the fathers of that gem of total fantasy. Jones, it turns out, is the guy who turned it into a wall-to-wall press event. He runs a $50 million partisan disinformation machine.
Perhaps no one has worked to deceive the press and the American people over Russiagate more than Jones. Given that he’s clearly a partisan hitman and a voracious spreader of false information, why would we believe anything about his version of what the CIA did, much less think the movie version of his story is anything less than dishonest and self-serving?
It’s actually odd releasing this movie in the last month, given the recent inspector general report’s revelations that put yet another nail in the coffin of the Trump-Russia narrative. Since his time at SSCI, Jones has been revealed to be totally wrong and obviously partisan. The parallels between the Jones behavior while at SSCI and the Ukraine “whistleblower” are too similar not to notice. A reasonable person might draw the conclusion they are running the same kind of operation.