Friday, June 1, 2018

What ‘The Americans’ Got Wrong (And Right) About Cold War Espionage


My wife and I watched and enjoyed the final episode of the TV series The Americans the other night. We’ve watched the espionage series since the beginning.

As a writer who covers espionage, I’ve interviewed CIA officers, American military intelligence officers, FBI counterintelligence agents, and British, Israeli and Russian intelligence officers over the years. I could spot where the show's producers and writers fictionalized real events from the Cold War. Other than there being far too much sex and violence, the TV show was fairly accurate.

Not that sex wasn't employed during the Cold War. Markus Wolf of the East German Stasi, who used sex frequently with “honey traps,” said, “Sex and espionage certainly go together – that’s an old tradition.”  

As for violence, yes, American intelligence officers were killed in Vietnam, the Middle East and elsewhere, but the KGB, the FBI and the CIA did not murder each other, as both sides feared the repercussions.

Lee Ferran at realclearlife.com offers a piece on a sort of  “after action report” on The Americans.   

Just hours before the final episode of FX’s hit Cold War-era espionage drama The Americans aired and threw #NatSecTwitter into convulsions Wednesday night, the stars of the show appeared on stage at UCLA alongside real-life ex-CIA undercover officers to talk tradecraft and what separates fact from fiction.

For the uninitiated, The Americans is set in the 1980s and follows two Soviet intelligence officers living secretly as a married couple with kids in Washington, D.C. as part of the KGB’s infamous “illegals” program. The show was one of the most tense dramas on television and gave off a particularly grounded feel.


Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, respectively) never drove invisible cars or made clever quips after dispatching a nameless enemy. But they did struggle with the moral ambiguity of their work as they manipulated and destroyed the lives of relatively innocent people and, occasionally, murdered others who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was a somber portrayal of a secret, gruesome world, aided a great deal by the experience of show creator Joe Weisberg, himself a former CIA officer.

But that doesn’t mean The Americans got everything right. At Wednesday’s event at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations, former CIA officers and Cold Warriors Martha Peterson and Mark Kelton joined Weisberg, Russell, Rhys and Costa Ronin, who plays a Russian embassy official in the show, to set the record straight.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

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