Sep 29 2008

USAF beams with pride over an absurd cyber-terror movie

No Gravatar

Hollywood’s newest cinema release, “Eagle Eye,” continues their infatuation with blood-spilling high-action big-budget cyber-terror movies. Major film critics, on the other hand, continue to pan any flick with an absurd Rube Goldberg cyberspace plot.

[Editor’s note: this column contains spoilers for the movie “Eagle Eye.”]

USAF website spotlights their role in the movie Eagle Eye

USAF website spotlights their role in the movie Eagle Eye

But here’s the kicker. The U.S. Air Force desperately wants a role in every absurdist cyberspace big-budget movie made today. They now brag on their website about contributing to “Eagle Eye” and its Colossus / WOPR / Skynet plotline.

Let’s make sure we get this straight, folks. From roughly a third of the way in until the post-climactic wrap, the actors consistently describe it as the most horrifying act of “cyber-terrorism” ever inflicted on the United States. And who master­minded all this cyber-terror against the U.S.? No evil empires, no chest-thumping bad guys, no CIA double agents, no alien cyborgs… Believe it or not, the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense itself orchestrated every single bit of the movie’s cyber-terrorism, aided by a hoard of “comm weenies” with AFSCs like 3C0x2 and 3C0x1 and 3C1x1 and 3C2x1.

Now you know why the U.S. Air Force must lead the way in cyberspace. America needs them to build digital armories filled with deadly cyber weapons so insane villains can remotely hack into them during Phase IV of their diabolical plan to overthrow the United States government.

It pains me to say this, but … USAF has finally topped its “Iron Eagle” debacle of 1986. Let’s check out just a few of the Air Force’s bragging rights in “Eagle Eye,” shall we?

  • A missile fired from an MQ-9 UAV wipes out an innocent funeral procession in an Afghan village;
  • A malfunctioning, autonomous, self-aware, ultra-secret super­computer buried under the Pentagon no doubt falls under the auspices of Air Force Cyberspace Command;
  • Two hapless individuals at a civilian airport step aboard a C-17 ramp with an unguarded (!) “A1 priority” container destined for the Pentagon;
  • A hacked F-16 ejects its pilot over the Washington, DC region; and
  • A hacked MQ-9 UAV fires missiles inside a freeway tunnel (aka a critical U.S. infrastructure) in the Washington, DC region.

It’s a movie cliché: “USAF will lose remote-control of deadly cyber­space weapon sys­tems that will go on to kill inno­cent people in the U.S. and/or a third-world country…”

You’ll notice I said “just a few of” USAF’s bragging rights. Don’t even get me started on a self-evolving weapon system that magically overcomes its intrinsic physical limitations to make the leap from omniscient to omnipotent. And don’t get me started on the posse comitatus issues for a Pentagon network that performs domestic spy ops. And don’t get me started on all the airports, trains, traffic lights, street cams, Porsche cruise controls, cell phones, X-ray machines, OnStarand any other non-USAF hacks.

Roger Ebert opened his movie review by saying “the word preposterous is too moderate to describe ‘Eagle Eye.’ This film contains not a single plausible moment after the opening sequence.” He goes on to stab the Rube Goldberg plotline: “Why not get a couple of no-neck guys from the West Side to kidnap Jerry, haul him on board a private jet and transport him to Them?”

I agree completely with Ebert. The apartment scene alone qualifies as an epic logistical nightmare. If a rogue military super­computer can acquire an entire truckload of bomb-making materials, poisons, sniper rifles, classified documents, plus fake passports without arousing any federal bureaucratic suspicion whatsoever, then lure delivery men to haul everything to an upstairs apartment without question, precisely during a small window of opportunity while the apartment dweller attends a family funeral—

A rogue military supercomputer convinces delivery men to haul a truckload of bomb-making materials, poisons, sniper rifles, classified documents, plus fake passports to an upstairs apartment and arrange it neatly during a small window of opportunity while the apartment dweller attends a funeral...

Absurd movie plot — a rogue mili­tary super­computer con­vinces delivery men to haul a truck­load of bomb-making materials, poisons, sniper rifles, classi­fied docu­ments, plus fake pass­ports to an up­stairs apart­ment and arrange it neatly during a small win­dow of oppor­tu­nity while the apart­ment dweller attends a funeral...

—then certainly a rogue military super­computer can lure an FBI team to escort our protagonist to the Pentagon, believing he’ll slip into his twin brother’s shoes to wrap up a CIA mission.

I mean, come on! We’re talking about a military super­computer with enough artificial intelligence to fully understand and correctly exploit both human fear and maternal instinct. Tapping a federal marshal’s psychological factors should be a no-brainer, folks.

To paraphrase comedian Greg Giraldo: “Eagle Eye’s plotline has more holes in it than Mel Gibson’s apology.”

And USAF feels proud to have worked on it! Check out this movie studio press release:

Rosario Dawson actually traveled to the Air Force’s OSI headquarters in Washington, D.C. to learn what her real-life counterparts’ lives were like. “We arranged for her to meet with them to learn about what they do,” explains Air Force technical advisor [SMSgt] Vince Aragona. Dawson also spoke with a female agent similar to her own character at L.A. Air Force Base. “That person actually ended up as an extra in the movie,” appearing as Dawson’s sidekick in some scenes.

Other active duty military also appear in the film as extras. “When you get active duty people in here wearing uniform,” Aragona says, “they already know how to walk, how to carry themselves, how to wear the uniforms properly. They’re active duty, they know what they’re doing. Plus, they love doing it…”

I should note the fact Aragona’s name appears in the end credits.

Oh, by the way! Aragona is USAF’s casting director for the upcoming “Trans­formers” sequel. Contact him if you serve in the Air force and want to lose your life in an aerial battle you couldn’t possibly win. But there’s a catch — cyberspace weenies need not apply. The producers want dashing young Pararescue Jumpers and Forward Air Controllers and any other in-lieu-of AFSC that includes a beret.


The most absurd quote comes to us from a positively glowing USAF press release:

“This was a great opportunity for the Air Force to be involved in such an action-packed thriller that reflects our core values through a prominent character in the story,” said Lt. Col. Francisco Hamm, the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office director…

Unlike a normal COTS super­computer that stands idle in a corner, this MIL­SPEC mon­strosity can freely move its silicon brain around the room on a metallic spine that hovers over a moat...

Unlike a normal COTS super­computer that stands idle in a corner, this MIL­SPEC mon­strosity can freely move its silicon brain around the room on a metallic spine that hovers over a moat...

“Core values,” he says? Core values?!? CORE VALUES?!?

In the film, AFOSI special agent Zoe Perez plays one of many unwitting pawns in a military super­computer’s plot to overthrow the U.S. government. Heck, she doesn’t even deliver a monologue. What core value does “secondary movie character” fall under? And what core value does “stabbing a super­computer to death” fall under?

Believe it, folks — our intrepid female Air Force agent stabbed a super­computer to death. You see, unlike a normal COTS super­computer that stands idle in a corner, this MILSPEC monstrosity can freely move its silicon brain around the room on a metallic spine that hovers over a moat, and, uh… well…

Waitaminit. A moat? Man, you gotta love Hollywood.

Hmph. If someone asked me to visualize “a silicon brain on a metallic spine,” I’d think of a Star Trek android like Data or Ilia or Nomad. You know: something that can use its spine to leave a moat-filled bunker. But hey, let’s not digress…

So anyway. If we wait for the DVD, we’ll probably find a deleted scene where Perez’s core values of “integrity, service, and excellence” reflect in the way she retrieves that hacked UAV from the tunnel chase. I can already hear the monologue she delivers over Tom Morgan’s lifeless body:

“You know, when I first met Agent Morgan, we ended up facing off over an Airman’s supposedly accidental death. Both of us engaged in needless posturing while American lives stood at grave risk. I wanted to speak to the dead man’s twin brother; he wouldn’t let me. Later he needed my help to stop a terror attack, but I just verbally flipped him the bird and hopped a flight. I see now that each of us is an important asset in the fight against terror here or abroad. But it took Morgan’s death to open my eyes. It was he, not I, who made the first move. It was he who believed in me first. I learned, almost too late, that this counter-terrorism agent was a feeling creature and, because of it, the greatest in America. I learned, too late for him, that agents have to make their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can’t be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. And, when agents seek such perfection, they find there’s only death, fire, loss, disillusionment, cyber-terrorism, the end of everything that’s gone forward. Counter-terror agents have always sought an end to toil and misery. It can’t be given; it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside, from an agent himself…

Now that’s a monologue, folks. Somebody look on the cutting room floor for Perez’s core values, will you?

Another malfunctioning autonomous deadly supercomputer that can freely move its silicon brain around a room...

Another example of a mal­func­tioning autono­mous deadly super­computer that can freely move its silicon brain around a room...

“But Rob, Perez’s work led her to the Pentagon where she linked up with the Secretary of Defense.” You’d call a chance meeting important? Bah. Everybody can brag about sitting across from some renowned VIP at some chance meeting. My work led me to the White House for a computer security round­table with Richard Clarke. Big whoop.

And besides, I monologue about my own core values way more than this fictitious “Zoe Perez” movie character ever did. So there.

Listen to me, folks. I said it before and I’ll say it again. Hollywood thinks the Air Force’s core value is to set up digital armories filled with deadly cyber weapons so insane villains can remotely hack into them during Phase IV of their diabolical plan to overthrow the United States. If USAF envisions that as one of its core values, then Hamm deserves a glowing performance report.

It’s practically a movie cliché these days for any high-tech government plotline — “USAF will lose remote-control of deadly cyber­space weapon sys­tems that go on to kill inno­cent people in the U.S. and/or a third-world country.” Sad but true. And the U.S. Air Force willingly helps Hollywood to perpetuate this cliché.

“[This movie] re­flects our core values through a promi­nent charac­ter in the story,’ said Lt. Col. Fran­cisco Hamm, the Air Force Enter­tain­ment Liaison Office director…”

Frankly, I view this movie cliché as a side effect of USAF’s fetish to codify a DoD-centric cyberspace mission. Their public affairs branch followed orders to hawk cyberspace as a combat zone … but it looks like no one rescinded the order. USAF’s newly knighted commanding general, Norton Schwartz, should walk down the hall to his public affairs office and say “stop making us look like Colonel Klink; start making us look like Colonel Hogan.”

“Hamm.” What a name for a guy who schmoozes with Hollywood’s glitterati. I’ll bet a soda this staff officer enjoys an open TDY order. Check out his military bio (archived), his civilian bio (archived), plus his LinkedIn profile (archived). Unlike some active duty airmen who bag groceries or deliver pizzas to make ends meet, this airman played an extra in the movie “White Squall” and snapped photos for the indie film “Run Cody.”

(I’ll see a lot of email over this but someone needs to say it. “Doesn’t Hamm’s LinkedIn bio remind you of General ‘Doc Hollywood’?” I’ll bet a soda Hamm’s overseas tour overlapped Doc’s reign of TV terror. “He will probably be remembered most by service­members stationed in Europe for his many commercials on American Forces Network Television…”)


It pains me to say this, but USAF has finally topped its “Iron Eagle” debacle of 1986.

I admit you’ll find some notable exceptions to this movie cliché. For example:

  • In “Transformers,” USAF loses a battle on one of its own airfields and gets hacked into by a robot that slipped undetected onto Air Force One. U.S. Air Force officials pitched in to make the combat losses look authentic.
  • In “Iron Man,” USAF loses an F-22 fighter jet; lets VIPs walk around a military hanger unescorted; lets officers carry personal cell phones into a classified air operations facility; and lets field-grade officers override flag-grade rules of engagement. U.S. Air Force officials pitched in to make the security lapses look authentic.
  • In “Stealth,” yet another malfunctioning autonomous self-aware computer—

oops, waitaminit. “Stealth” centered on the U.S. Navy. My bad. Still, it’s obvious USAF wants to help Hollywood make movies that make USAF look like a bunch of cyber-imbeciles. Hmph.

So. The U.S. Air Force wants to be the third leg in a triad known as the “military-industrial-entertainment complex,” eh? Fair enough. But their misplaced pride in their contributions to “Eagle Eye” makes me wonder if USAF played any role in the production of this action movie

Share
  • By jcsmith2No Gravatar, 30 September 2008 @ 10:43 am

    I’m not really surprised. After the recruiting commercial that showed how you (yes YOU!) could join the AF and say the world from almost certain catastrophic calamity, seeing them carry this into the movies isn’t too much of a stretch.

    My Air Force veteran parents (dad 25 years, mom 10) wouldn’t wouldn’t recognize the AF now. More’s the pity…

  • By jarhead1349No Gravatar, 18 January 2009 @ 5:21 pm

    The quote about using AF peeps on this flick is disturbing. SMSgt Aragona implies that Active Duty Airmen are the only ones who know how to walk and talk like their in the military. As a Marine Reservist who was Active Duty Marine Corps, I take offense.

    This whole thing looks to me like the AF is trying to get on the good PR train that the Marines have been riding for decades. Yes, we get our share of black eyes, but when Hollywood needs a hero, they make him a Marine.

    When the (Ch)Air Force gives due credit to the other services, and starts carrying weapons in Iraq, then I’ll take them seriously. In Iraq, and elsewhere, the AF generally treats Marines and other “ground types” as cargo they don’t have to palletize.

Other Links to this Post