- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

LOS ANGELES — Al Pacino, who plays a Central Intelligence Agency talent scout in his latest movie, "The Recruit," which opened yesterday in area theaters, says he always gains new respect for the make-believe jobs he has held throughout a 34-year acting career.
A short list of those jobs includes cop, lawyer, real estate salesman, New York City mayor, TV producer and NFL head coach, presuming that Mr. Pacino, now 62, wasn't thinking of the jobs as Mafia boss and drug kingpin that he held in, respectively, "The Godfather" trilogy and "Scarface."
"I always liked football, but now I love football, having played a football coach," says Mr. Pacino at an interview earlier this month in Los Angeles, referring to his role in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday."
"Do you love the CIA now?" a reporter asks him.
"Well, I can't say that," Mr. Pacino says. "I don't know them well enough, and they don't play on Sundays."
Of course, the CIA does play on Sundays it's just that they're not televised.
Since September 11, the agency's clandestine activities are getting more sustained public scrutiny than they've had since the late Sen. Frank Church and his committee's heyday in the '70s. And if you'd been investigated by the Church committee, you wouldn't care much for public scrutiny either.
With this renewed interest, it seemed only natural that Roger Donaldson, who has directed knowing movies about the Pentagon (1987's "No Way Out") and the White House (2000's "Thirteen Days"), would want to peer behind the curtain at the formerly anachronistic CIA.
"I have been interested in American politics," says Mr. Donaldson, "and the CIA is a fascinating organization."
But the Australian-born director says he didn't approach "The Recruit" with current events as his guide and, indeed, sought to avoid the subject of September 11 altogether.
"I didn't want it to relate to that event," Mr. Donaldson says. "When we talk about who our enemies are, I didn't want to be specific about any particular organization or country, because I felt like history could change very fast."
There are several oblique references to September 11 and Middle Eastern terrorist groups in "The Recruit." One character, for example, says the CIA is a bunch of "old white guys who let us down when we needed them most." Another character is reputed to be of Syrian descent and working for an unnamed terrorist organization.
"You can't make a film about an organization like this without making some comment about" September 11-related events, Mr. Donaldson says. "But I tried to neutralize it, in a way."
His goal in making the film, shot in Toronto over 10 weeks, was to realistically depict how the CIA recruits and trains clandestine agents, he says.
"I didn't come along to make a sort of political statement about the CIA. I just wanted to make a thriller that's set in the CIA," Mr. Donaldson says. "Hopefully, you'll feel like maybe that's what it's like to be recruited by this organization."
While it takes its share of dramatic license, parts of "The Recruit" were quite accurate, according to Chase Brandon, a former undercover field agent now with the CIA's public affairs office.
"The recruitment process has a strong element of verisimilitude to it," says Mr. Brandon, who consulted on "The Recruit," as well as the movie adaptation of novelist Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears," released last year.
In particular, Mr. Brandon says, the movie gives viewers an accurate glimpse of the tactical and physical training CIA recruits receive: They are drilled in the use of explosives, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance technology and methods of personal deception, to name a few areas of their regimen.
"That rings true," Mr. Brandon says.
"The locations Roger Donaldson came and spent time at [CIAs Langley, Va.] headquarters. They created sets that are absolutely authentic-looking," Mr. Brandon says.
"I wanted to get that three-dimensional sort of quality," Mr. Donaldson says of his Langley tour. "To walk up to the front gate and hand over your ID, being escorted to the main building, those were things that I wanted to experience myself."
The entire "Recruit" crew came to Washington last March to film a series of exterior shots of the nation's capital, including the Union Station atrium, the Dupont Circle Metro station, Georgetown (near Wisconsin Ave.), the Tidal Basin and the Iwo Jima Memorial in Rosslyn.
Much of the film is set at a CIA training station, dubbed "The Farm," that Mr. Donaldson says is located outside Colonial Williamsburg.
"We are mindful that people insist that we have a training facility called 'The Farm,'" says Mr. Brandon, the former clandestine operative. "We have several training facilities. They have a variety of different names. We don't acknowledge where those training facilities are, we don't talk about what happens there and we certainly don't reveal the names of them."
Like we said, they're trained in methods of personal deception.
One aspect of "The Recruit" is unfortunately very real, Mr. Brandon says. The script, written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer, was inspired by a true case of internal espionage that of Harold Nicholson, a CIA agent convicted of selling defense secrets to Russia.
A former overseas station chief who smuggled sensitive materials from a CIA training facility, Nicholson was arrested at Washington Dulles International Airport in 1996 and is currently serving a prison sentence of at least 23 years.
Nicholson began spying, amazingly enough, after the much-publicized arrest in 1994 of Aldrich Ames, another CIA agent busted for selling intelligence secrets to the Russians.
Such celebrated spy cases did little to burnish the public image of the CIA, an agency known more for its mischief in places like Cuba and Chile and, closer to home, its alumni's ties to the Watergate break-in, than for any national security threats it may have preempted.
Mr. Brandon believes that before the attack on the World Trade Center, the public viewed the CIA as an outmoded Cold War relic and that the September 11 attack talk about intelligence fiascoes was a deadly reminder of how indispensable the agency remains to protecting America from its enemies.
"When we go out and do what we're told to do and it's successful, nobody knows," Mr. Brandon says. "There are no celebrations and no anniversaries and no remembrances of all the events that did not take place."
"These people you don't ever meet," Mr. Pacino says of bona fide CIA spooks. "You never know who they are."
And if there's one person who understands the need for secrecy, it's Michael Corleone.

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