This is a modern cloak and dagger based on a true story. Twenty-five year FBI man Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) is nabbed for spying just before he would have retired. The movie depicts the FBI’s effort to catch him in the act of making a “drop” so that conviction would be certain.
Hanssen is depicted as a haughty, moralizing loner at work, but a faithful and loving family man at home, and throughout, a devout and pious Catholic. What is shocking is not just the acts of treason, but the long-term sustained nature of those acts, especially as they paralleled his familial and religious piety.
One would naturally suspect hypocrisy, that is, that the religiosity was a mere cover for his real baseness. However, a hypocrite can be known by what he does “in the closet,” and the omniscient eye of the film depicts Hanssen alone in church and confessional. It thus takes the stand that the religion was genuine.
A coherent motive for his turning is not developed, though that would have made for an interesting theme. We are left to presume that the film-makers simply identify strong religious commitment, “family values” and base character.
In real life, apparently, Hanssen in 1981 confessed his espionage to his wife, priest and attorney. The priest told him to give the money received to charity as his penance. In subsequent waves of relapse, however, Hanssen renewed his data dumping to the Soviets and, after 1991, to the (no longer Soviet) Russians.
Certainly, there is much in the popish aspect to criticize here. Donating the blood money to charity is hardly adequate penance. It was necessary for him to confess to the civil authorities for his repentance to be credible; otherwise, restitution of the status quo ante has not obtained. Moreover, the “client privilege” of priest, lawyer, and spouse must end where the very safety of the nation is put at risk, and these persons should be regarded as accomplices after the fact. Finally, a reflection is called for on whether the whole externalization of penance in that system leads to regarding grace as cheap, to not dealing with the root problem, and thus allowed Hanssen to continue in self-deception.
However, we also need to look deeper at the reason why Hollywood took an interest in this story to begin with. As Protestants, we need to be aware of being set up to overemphasize the popish aspect of this case. Obviously, Hollywood is not interested in the Calvinist critique of Roman Catholic penance.
Several times the film reiterates that this was “the greatest security breach in US history.” However, that claim is a bit ambiguous. In the natural reading of the phrase, it is not obviously true. The ambiguity lies therein, that there could be a serious security breach that says something about the wall of security that was breached without comment on the damage actually done. For example, suppose a highly-placed agent goes crooked and turns over a lot of information to the enemy. Suppose that information was obsolete, or intentionally planted by counter-espionage as disinformation, or already known to the enemy through other means. Then a “breach in security” took place, a serious one; but not a breach that led to actual damage.
There is a steady jewish campaign both here and from Israel to get convicted spy Jonathan Pollard released. Part of the argument is that men like Ames and Hanssen did more damage than Pollard did — hence the significance of the repeated reminder, Hanssen was the “greatest security breach in US history” — and that the goy-spies spied for an enemy while Pollard only did it for our “ally” Israel. Now, apart from the ludicrousness of identifying Israel as our ally — what have they ever done for us that was beneficial for us? what have they given? what have they not taken? — and downplaying the near certainty that Israel turned right around and sold Pollard’s data to the Soviets — there is prima facie something that, at least plausibly from the perspective we can take without being privy to all that is known to the black ops world, is far worse about the kind of information Pollard leaked compared to that of the goy-spies. Yes, Ames’ and Hanssen’s leaks led to several Russian agents working for the US to be executed: that is certainly deplorable, and itself worthy of the death penalty. They also gave the Soviets a heads up on certain ways we were spying on them, allowing them to take counter-measures. Yet all of that is still at the level, so to speak, of the cloak-and-dagger world itself. In contrast, what Pollard leaked was information that could easily have led to the death of American soldiers and seamen in the act of defending their country, and undoubtedly would have, had hot war broken out. Pollard stabbed his alleged fellow-countrymen in the back; in the case of Ames and Hanssen, the damage was more indirect.
Don’t get me wrong: such a man is worthy of death, even if (contrary to his intention) the damage was small. And it is another sign of our blighted system that Hanssen’s punishment was commuted to life imprisonment for “cooperating with the government” — an irony if there ever was one.
But we must be wary of being manipulated to taking a side in a battle we are not even aware is being waged when absorbing the message of movies like this one. It has the potential to demoralize Americans, and set Protestant and Catholic a squabbling on a matter that is peripheral to what their real argument with each other should be; and shift attention from the very real and lethal threat posed by jewish “Americans” whose loyalty to their chosen Tribe, and contemptuous regard of the American “cattle” will lead to our extinction if measures are not taken soon to counter it.