News & Politics

The Craziest Spy Movie Ever

Scene: the office of a Big Movie Executive:

Me: “So, here’s a concept for you. Tom Clancy meets George Smiley. An intelligence operation that reaches the highest levels in Congress.”

BMX: “Interesting. Tell me more.”

Me: “A Pakistani immigrant in the US gets a job running computer systems for a member of Congress. He doesn’t have a lot of obvious qualifications, but he’s brought in by more and more Congress members of one party. He gets an amazing salary, almost as high as a Congress member, and as time goes on, he brings in members of his family, all at this same amazing salary, including a younger brother whose last job was at McDonald’s — and he was fired from that. Eventually, it’s discovered that as well as the IT work, he’s running a scam where he mortgages homes he’s renting through the Congressional Credit Union. A criminal investigation is announced, and many of the members of Congress fire him, but one Member, who until recently was head of her party’s National Committee, keeps him on the payroll — even though he no longer has access to the computer systems he’s supposed to manage — until the day after he’s arrested for bank fraud trying to flee the country.”

BMX: “Get out.”

Someone once said that the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to be believable. Of course, that movie pitch is entirely drawn from reality: the one party is the Democrats, the one Congress member is Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the pitch doesn’t actually include all the odd twists in the story.

Like: as a sysadmin on the Congressional email system, he had full access to all the Congress members’ email. All of it, probably including the Republicans. For close to ten years. Did he have a security clearance? If so, how the hell did he get it, and how the pluperfect hell did he and his family keep it through years of financial crises, bankruptcies, and lawsuits.

And if he didn’t have a clearance, how did he get access to those systems at all?

Scene: Big Movie Executive’s Office

(Door opens. I shake off the secretary trying to stop me.)

BMX: “How the hell did you get in here?!”

ME: “Look, this’ll just take a second, we never got to the good part. See, the story really is how the Pakistani ISI got some really incriminating information on a member of Congress, and blackmailed the member into hiring one of their operatives. The operative took over IT, while getting a massive salary, and brought in other family members to get even more money. Every time the Congress member tried to say ‘no’, the ISI waved the pictures at her, and then reminded her that she was far too compromised to back out now. Besides, for a long time it seems like it’s paying off for her too; she gets more influence, and a little rifling through her colleagues’ emails gives her a lot of inside information that she uses, successfully.”

“Then, one day, it starts to go to pieces. ISI decides it’s more interested in influencing the US election because they don’t trust the Democratic candidate, and leaks information to Wikileaks. Or maybe the Congress member finally just can’t go further, and they pull the trigger on her. In the process of trying to send assets back to Pakistan, the ringleader of this is caught and arrested. And then the whole ball of yarn starts to unwind.”

BMX: “Okay, sit down, kid. THAT story sounds believable.”

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