‘Three Days of the Condor’ Captured Our Deep State Past (and Present)

On a recent flight, I revisited one of the great political thrillers of all time:

From start to finish, “Three Days of the Condor” is an exciting, action-packed thriller, perfect for a three-hour flight.

Based on the 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, the film was shot in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the final stages of the Vietnam War. That might help explain the film’s dark reveal at the end, which comes only after the body count grows and the plot slowly unravels.

The entire film is an emotional roller coaster, in part because viewers are teased and left guessing who is good and who is bad. But it is the final scene that contains the most frightening and important message.

First, let’s take a closer look at the story.

‘Everyone is dead’

Directed by the late, great Sydney Pollack, “Condor” stars Robert Redford as a low-level CIA analyst named Joe Turner (codename: Condor) who finds himself on the run when the small CIA office where he works , is targeted by a team of killers led by a European assassin known only as Joubert (Max von Sydow).

The kills are quick, dispassionate and efficient. About half a dozen people are left for dead, including Turner’s love interest, who is politely asked to “step away from the window” before she is gunned down. Turner, who was out for lunch when the attack takes place, manages to escape the carnage.

Why the hit took place is a mystery, but it’s a question our hero is determined to solve. The word hero might be a stretch, though, because Turner is just a low-level CIA flunky. Several times he reminds us that he “just reads books” and files reports on them, e.g. when he calls here to the home office.

“The section has been hit,” he tells an operator who calls himself the Major.

Major: “What level?”
Turner: “What level?
Major: Degree of damage.”
Turner: “Everyone. Dr. Lappe, Janice, Ray, Harold. Harold was in, uh…”

At this point, the Major scolds Turner for interrupting the proceedings by calling from a phone box, prompting Turner to fight back.

“Listen, you son of ab**ch! I came back with lunch. The house was murdered. Everyone’s dead,” he tells the major. “Will you bring me in, please? I am not a field agent. I just read books.”

These last lines are important because they establish that Turner is just a regular guy. He has no agenda, unlike the other CIA brass we encounter.

After some phone calls back and forth with the major, Condor is put in touch with Higgins, the deputy director of the CIA’s New York office, who arranges for Turner to meet with the head of the DC branch, who will be accompanied by someone Turner trusts. .

However, the meeting goes south when Turner’s friend is closed in the head by the man accompanying him. Turner manages to escape again and eventually captures a young woman (Faye Dunaway) so he can hide in her apartment and rest.

This being a movie, a romance naturally ensues.

However, the couple’s peace is fleeting as their location is soon discovered. Turner manages to survive another hit attempt and kills one of the men involved in the attack on his CIA office.

‘Someone you know, maybe even trust’

Throughout this whirlwind of events, viewers are left trying to piece together what is happening. Everyone seems suspicious and it’s not entirely clear who the good guys are.
Finally, we learn something shocking (SPOILER ALERT): Joubert is not working against the CIA.

He works for the CIA. Turner, it turns out, stumbled upon an off-the-book CIA operation designed to obtain oil from the Middle East and ensure America’s national security for decades. When Turner accidentally discovered evidence of the operation, Leonard Atwood, Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA’s Middle East Division, ordered the entire office taken out to preserve the secret.

Turner learns all of this while holding Atwood at gunpoint in his home near the end of the film.

Unfortunately for Turner, contract killer Joubert arrives and appears to have finally jumped on the Condor. In another unexpected twist, Joubert instead kills Atwood, who had hired Joubert to eliminate Turner’s section. (Atwood’s superiors, sensing an embarrassment to “the company,” contracted Joerbert to have him commit suicide.)

After Atwood’s “suicide”, Joubert and Turner walk out of his home into the early morning air. An uncomfortable silence lingers. Eventually, the hitman starts politely chatting with Turner, the man he tried to kill a day earlier (and whose girlfriend he killed). Joubert kindly offers to give Turner a lift.

When Condor declines, saying he just wants to go back to New York, Joubert delivers perhaps the film’s most memorable lines.

“You don’t have much of a future there. It’ll happen this way. You might go. Maybe the first sunny day of spring. And a car will slow down beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he’ll smile, a permanent smile. But he’ll leave the car door open and offer to give you a lift.”

The true terror of a deep state

Three Days of the Condor is a masterpiece, in part because it creates a sense of paranoia. Viewers don’t know who to trust and this creates a suspended sense of tension throughout the film.
This sense of paranoia is only heightened when we learn that the US government is behind the killings, all for the benefit of “the company” and the United States.

Many today scoff at the idea that “a deep state” could actually exist in the US government, but in 1975 the idea didn’t seem quite so crazy. In the aftermath of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, Americans learned the harsh truth that those in power have agendas beyond what is stated in press releases, and sometimes they do things in pursuit of those agendas that are dishonest, inhumane, and even criminal.

In 1975, some viewers probably took comfort in the thought that these nefarious activities were only carried out by Richard Nixon, a failed president who resigned in disgrace. The scary truth is that agencies like the FBI and CIA were involved in shady operations long before Nixon became president—and long after he resigned.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the CIA shooting up offices and murdering people in broad daylight, as in “Three Days of the Condor” (although the CIA considered killed Cuban refugees and bombs Miami in its plan to overthrow Fidel Castro).

I’m talking more about a catalog of confirmed historical events that range from the ethically bankrupt to the dehumanizing to the blatantly criminal.

This includes the CIA forcing prisoners to participate in drug experiments to study mind control (Project MK Ultra), FBI staging terrorist acts so they can “thwart” the plot that the CIA is planting war propaganda with compliant media (as documented in former New York Times journalist Tim Weiner’s book Legacy of Ashes), agencies spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee and publicly lie about itand the FBI sends letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. instructing him to kill himself.

That the list goes on.

The idea that “deep state” agents exist in the US government operating with their own agendas should terrify us. But “Three Days of the Condor” shows that the true terror of a deep state is not necessarily the crimes it commits.

At the end of the movie, it looks like our protagonist has actually won. Atwood is dead. Joubert is no longer a threat. And Turner has gone to The New York Times with his story.

But in the final scene on a street corner in New York City, Turner meets Higgins, the deputy director of the CIA’s New York office. Played by Cliff Robertson (the friendly guy who played Uncle Ben to Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man”), Higgins is a character we like.

Although we don’t actually trust him, it was Higgins who helped guide Turner out of his mess and is probably the man who ordered Atwood removed. But he is clearly playing his own game as well.

In the film’s most important scene, Turner tells Higgins that he spilled the beans to the Gray Lady. The story is out, he says confidently, and there’s nothing Higgins can do about it.

“Awwa, you poor, stupid son-of-ab**ch,” Higgins says with a downcast look.

Turner turns on his heel and walks away, triumphantly we think. Then Higgins yells at him.

“Hey Turner,” he says. “How do you know they will print it?”

Suddenly, it’s Turner who looks down, even a little scared.

“They’ll print it,” he replies, but his voice shakes a little.

Now it’s Higgins who looks steely.

“How do you know?” Higgins asks.

Turner gives no answer and the film does not say what happens next. But Turner’s gaze is meant to tell us – and his eyes reveal fear and the true horror of a deep state.

What makes a deep state truly scary is not that invisible factions in government will act unethically or even criminally in pursuit of their agendas to serve “a greater good.” It’s that they will be able to do it and never be held accountable even when caught because they control information.

This is precisely why we should resist government attempts to control information. Albert Einstein once noted that this is a well-worn road to tyranny.

“Any government is evil if it carries within it the tendency to deteriorate into tyranny … the danger of such deterioration is more acute in a country where the government has authority not only over the armed forces, but also over all the educational and information channels.”

Ultimately, “Three Days of the Condor” leaves us with a conundrum. What good is a free press if those with influence are too afraid or corrupt to print the truth?

This piece was originally published on FEE.org.

Jonathan Miltimore is the managing editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has been the subject of articles in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News and the Star Tribune. He has also contributed to Newsweek, The Washington Times, MSN.com, The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist and The Epoch Times.

Related Posts

Cash as canvas, Turner returns and footwear becomes modern – the week in art | Art and design

Exhibition of the week The art of the terracesMark Leckey and more look at the subculture of football matches. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, November 5-12. March We…

Credit Notes: Midterm Election Ads, Jeff Bezos and JAY-Z | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Credit Notes: Midterm Election Ads, Jeff Bezos and JAY-Z | The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon  The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The Crown: Why all the fuss when the facts of what happened still shock as much as the fiction? | UK News

Whatever the critics or the royal family might think of The Crown, you can’t help but think the reality of what happened in the 1990s is as…

Elon Musk says Twitter layoffs were because the company was losing $4 million a day

Elon Musk gives his reasoning for sending thousands of Twitter employees packing … he says the bird app was hemorrhaging money. Papa Elon broke his silence Friday…

Top Comic Book Writers 3-1

The countdown concludes with the last three writers that you voted as your favorites of all-time (out of roughly 1,023 ballots cast, with 10 points for first…

Katsuyori Shibata loses his first match in AEW

Tonight’s (Nov. 4) live episode of AEW Rampage in Atlantic City, New Jersey, kicked off with an All Atlantic City Dream match between Orange Cassidy and Katsuyori…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *