Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The CIA and "The Sting"

The CIA and the "The Sting"

In his book "Intelligence Wars," Thomas Powers recalls a party for a retiring veteran CIA operations officer where he met former NSA (National Security Agency) and ACSI  (Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence 1981-1985) General William Odum.

[  William Eldridge Odom - Wikipedia / William E. Odom, 75; Military Adviser to 2 Administrations  /  William Odom, 75, National Security Director, Dies - The New York Times ] 

Over cocktails, Thomas asked Odum, an agency chief, how he came to meet the retiring CIA covert operator. 

Odum replied that he had asked the covert operator two questions - should the Army be running agents at all? 

The second question was what makes a good covert operational case officer?

While Thomas doesn't tell us the answer to the first question, we can see the value of Army Intelligence running undercover agents because the CIA is prohibited from doing so domestically by their charter, and the value of the Army intelligence during the civil rights and Vietnam protest era is readily apparent.

As for what makes a good covert operational case officer, the surprising answer was, just like the movie "The Sting." 

From that answer, it was apparanent that the retiring CIA covert operator had taken Paul Linebarger's class at the Center for Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins in Baltimore, as described by Joseph Smith in his book "Portrait of a Cold Warriror."

Besides his own text book "Psychological Warfare," Linebarger had his students read David Maurer's "The Big Con," the book that formed the basis for the movie "The Sting." 

Maurer, a linguistics professor at a Kentucky University, began to study the street slang of gangs, theves and criminals, compiling a unique dictionary of slang, in the course of which they told him about the Big Con artists who didn't rob people but instead convinced them to give them large amounts of money under the impression they would get more, verifing the idea "you can't cheat an honest man." 

When he met some Big Con artists and took them out to lunch, he gained their confidence, so they told Maurer the secrets of the Big Con, how it is conducted, and how everyone in the operation except the Mark is an actor playing out their assigned roles. Like a magician who gives away  the secrets of their tricks, Maurer got the details of the Big Con. They also told Maurer about some of the more legendary Big Con artists like Charlie Gondorf, an Atlantic City bartender portrayed in the movie by Paul Newman. 

When I read an early edition of "The American Confidence Man," a trade paperback aimed at academics and students, I immediatly recognized it as the basis for the movie "The Sting." 

A later mass market paperback edition "The Big Con,"  Linebarger assigned his covert operational students to read that was apparently picked up by Hollywood screenwriters who produced "The Sting," but failed to acknowledge Maurer's contributions. "The Sting" movie itself was a sting. 

When Maurer inquired, the Hollywood screenwriters denied ever reading Maurer's book, but when Maurer took them to court they settled when they couldn't come up with another published source for the name "Gondorf." 

While  the movie "The Sting" is an example of how covert operations are coonducted, Maurer's book gives covert operational case officers the crafts and techniques needed to carry out such operations, as Paul Linebarger taught his psychological warfare students at John Hopkins' Center for Advsnced International Studies. 

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