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The Falcon & The Snowman: A review By Les

Posted by Eric Espig On 13:38

THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN:  - A Cautionary Tail for Would Be Whistle Blowers
Cold War Cinema: May 17, 2011

plausible deniability - (first use 1973) reasonable denial of blame in a chain of command, to keep blame at as low a level as possible should facts become public.

Have you ever had good reason to divulge a confidence, or been tempted to do so? Can whistle blowing ever be justified? What level of immunity from public scrutiny should democratically elected governments enjoy?

Private Bradley Manning (U.S.) is facing numerous charges for leaking sensitive government information that was later made public by the website WikiLeaks. If Manning did provide the leaks, was he simply a whistle blower attempting to inform fellow citizens of the deeds of their government? Does it matter to whom he provided information? To whom could he have gone if he was concerned about his government’s activities?

Julian Assange, the Australian computer expert behind WikiLeaks, has legal problems also. It is believed he got information from Manning. Was Assange simply a journalist or publisher doing his job in keeping the public informed?

"The Falcon And The Snowman" depicts events in the life of U.S. citizen Christopher John Boyce in the1970s. During the 1970s there was much youth angst with the Vietnam War, with struggles for equality of gender and race, with the developing drug culture, with cynicism about government honesty, and with authority in general. For many people this period was also an era of unlimited possibilities in science and technology, man had just landed on the moon! It was also a time of significant fear concerning the potential for a nuclear war that could develop out of a miscalculation by either of the super powers.

The movie depicts Boyce as a naive, sometimes frustrated, young man with misplaced idealism when he starts to provide some low level classified information to the Soviets. At first the information concerns dirty tricks, such as the removal of elected foreign governments by U.S. officials. What the Soviets really want, however, is U.S. military secrets. Events spiral out of control for Boyce as he becomes trapped in circumstances beyond simple whistle blowing. If only he had followed the unofficial motto of the Diefenbunker “Tell No One, Deny Everything”!

The movie may be weak in plot for some viewers and many may not empathize with the main character. Indeed, many viewers may wonder that such inept espionage activities as those depicted could really have happened in the first place, let alone for so long.

Nevertheless, I found the movie engaging. It is a movie about character(s). I started to think about what motivates a whistle blower, what options they believe they have, and how events can unfold in unexpected ways. I also found the movie to be a satire on a society that could produce citizens such as Boyce, homegrown spies. 

I next began to think about societies in which some members develop into terrorists bent on destroying their fellow citizens, often directly and through violent means. A spy's impact is usually less immediate or direct.  Are there characteristics in common between whistle blowers, spies and terrorists. 
The Diefenbunker, a once top secret government facility, is an excellent venue in which to see the movie and to consider the above ideas. See you there,


P.S.     Yes Virginia, there were spies. Yes, it is believed that the Diefenbunker's secrets were kept. 

P.P.S.  Without doing research, please think about how the following persons may have increased your awareness of issues that others were trying to hide from you, issues impacting your safety and / or access to information on government activities:

a.         Linda Keen;
b.         Allan Cutler;
c.         Paul Diaz; and
d.         P.J. Crowley?

Hints - Canadian isotope crisis at Chalk River; Gomery Royal Commision (sponsorship scandal); nuclear plant safety concerns; and treatment of jailed former intelligence analyst Bradley Manning that "is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid".