Winter was the perfect season for the release of “The Good Shepherd” which exacerbated December’s icy chill and masterfully depicted the bloodless, emotional vacuity of CIA cold warrior, Edward Wilson. According to New York Times reviewer, Manohla Dargis, Wilson is a composite character, played by Matt Damon, portraying the real-life James Angleton who directed the CIA’s counterintelligence program from 1954 to 1974, after serving the agency from the time it had been the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The movie’s title apparently refers to Jesus’ saying that the “good shepherd” gives his life for his sheep, and give his life Wilson does, albeit emotionally and spiritually, until one is left wondering if there are any last drops of humanity remaining within the shell into which he has devolved. I heard one reviewer describe the film as an attempt to “take on” the CIA, yet I came away on the one hand in awe of its psychological depiction of Edward Wilson, but also aware of the film’s paucity of information regarding the agency’s sordid machinations before, during, and after the Cold War. In the beginning of the film we see Wilson initiated into Skull and Bones, but mud wrestling is a dirty as it gets, which lets that secret society off the hook entirely. No depictions of the infamous ceremony in which a Bonesman initiate is required to recite his entire sexual history to the group, nor clarity regarding the revolving door between Skull and Bones and the CIA. True to life, the agency continues to up the ante in terms of what is expected of Wilson, and when he witnesses the murder of his Yale professor-poetry mentor, genuine pangs of conscience surge in an attempt to prevent the atrocity, even as the professor leaves Wilson with a final warning to guard his soul and never allow the agency to extinguish it. Later, Wilson finds himself in the bed of a German woman co-worker who he suspects is spying against the U.S. government. Subsequently, Wilson and another male colleague show up at the woman’s door, enter her home, and summarily shoot her. Although he comes close, Wilson can never open his heart romantically, never allow the place in his psyche which supercedes governments and cannot be touched by them to become genuinely vulnerable to any of the women in his life. This only happens with his son, until in the final minutes of the film, Wilson denounces matters of his own and other hearts and marches forward dispassionately to become the new head of CIA counterintelligence.  Among other things, the film addresses the issue of former Nazi scientists brought to the U.S. after World War II, but does not touch the reality that many of Hitler’s top intelligence officers were hired by the CIA (Operation Paperclip) to assist the agency in spying on the Soviet Union, a reality deeply disturbing to former New York Congresswoman, Elizabeth Holtzman who chaired a Congressional investigation of Paperclip in the 1990s. Nor does “The Good Shepherd” venture into the formidable waters of the CIA’s historic involvement with drug trafficking and money laundering from before the end of World War II and continuing into present time—a reality documented superbly by Mike Ruppert, Gary Webb, Mike Levine, Celerino Castillo, and Catherine Austin Fitts. While the film superficially depicts CIA intervention in banana republics during the 1950s and ‘60s to ostensibly contain the spread of communism, unless the viewer is familiar with the ghastly extent of the CIA’s overthrow of governments worldwide, he/she cannot adequately appreciate the horror that Wilson consents to sanction. “The Good Shepherd” often mixes historical fact with fiction, as in one scene where agents are torturing a Soviet suspected of spying and enhance their sadistic interrogation by giving him a generous dose of LSD to which the suspect ultimately responds by jumping out the window of the building in which he is being detained. The agency’s use of LSD and similar drugs for interrogation and other purposes is detailed in de-classified documents from the MK Ultra Program. This particular scene in the film is reminiscent of the Frank Olson case in which agents almost certainly slipped LSD into the drink of another agent, Frank Olson, who they suspected of being a double agent, and who experienced a psychotic reaction whereupon he was taken by agents to a New York hotel where he leapt to his death from the tenth floor. One of the finest resources for background information on the era in which “The Good Shepherd” begins, the Bay of Pigs and the John F. Kennedy administration is the website of the late Fletcher Prouty who served as the Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy years. Prouty’s practice of Scientology and his collaboration with Oliver Stone on the JFK film have been spuriously used to minimize his accounts of CIA dirty tricks, but much of Prouty’s material has been corroborated elsewhere.Included in “The Good Shepherd” is a reality that Prouty emphasizes in his writings, namely that Kennedy had declared that he would “break the CIA into a thousand pieces”. However, the film does not clarify, as Prouty does, that Kennedy wanted to shift the power to overthrow governments, ensconced at it was in secret CIA operations, into the hands of the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon where the light of Executive and Legislative branch oversight could shine upon it. In my recently-published book, U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You the reader will find more detailed information regarding the post-World War II activities of the CIA and the relevance of those to U.S. foreign and domestic policy both then and now. As a result of my research I was sorely disappointed but not surprised, that the makers of “The Good Shepherd”, who ostensibly sought to “take on the CIA” did not in fact do so. But if money from CIA-sanctioned drug profits has found its way into Hollywood, as well as the host of other industries, as Catherine Austin Fitts asserts in her marvelous series, “Narco Dollars For Beginners”, then we should not expect “The Good Shepherd” to offer us more than it did in terms of disclosing the agency’s atrocities. Also explained in my book is the process by which the CIA developed the power to create black budgets for clandestine operations of which Congress and the American people have been and continue to be unaware—a reality that is inextricably connected with trillions of dollars of “missing” money which Fitts has superbly documented. What we did receive from the film was a message perhaps as urgent and equally as disturbing as any litany of the CIA’s six-decade history of criminality, namely, as I.F. Stone never failed to remind us, “governments lie,” but worse–that when individuals commit to “serving their country”, their fate is sealed, either in terms of literal loss of life or the total and complete evisceration of their souls. In “The Good Shepherd” we are confronted with the price of patriotism and the toll it takes on one man’s humanity and the well being of innocent individuals close to him.  The film asks us: What is the cost of being a “good shepherd”? No one returns from any country’s wars unscathed, and only a handful of politicians in this country’s history have ever retained their integrity let alone their humanity. Moreover, when we are unwilling to face the criminality of our government and its corporate accomplices—when we refuse to examine and learn from our history, which is not only past but present, we join Ed Wilson in relinquishing another piece of our humanity every day that recalcitrant patriotism rules our lives. The colonial revolutionaries and founders that we call “patriots” were committed not to the established order, but to remaking and transforming it—a far more noble expression of patriotism, which Jefferson underscored when he passionately asserted that he wanted to see a revolution in America every twenty years. Indeed, “good shepherds”, like Ed Wilson, tend to become the walking dead, enshrouding their environment with the stench of their decaying souls while the conscious revolutionaries of history have enlivened and embellished everything around and within themselves, cherishing integrity over patriotism, love before duty, and courage above compliance.   

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of history and manages her website at www.carolynbaker.org where her book may be ordered and where she may be contacted.



  1. mark urban Says:

    Hey Carolyn!

    Also missing was the fact that Angleton left the CIA in disgrace. He was by some accounts the very mole whom sought to discover for so many years.

    Remember the little boy asking Wilson for change of a dollar?
    That dollar’s serial number indicated that “cardinal” wanted to meet.

    Remember Ulysses’ right hand man being given a dollar by Wilson at the Smithsonian? Wilson says it is a “cardinal” rule to practice generosity in a democracy or words to that effect.

    I do not think many people got that. Did you?

  2. offseason Says:

    I noticed the “cardinal” thing as well, but didn’t know what to make of it. Did it mean that Wilson was somehow passing information along?

  3. mark urban Says:

    I think it was a legitimate method of setting up a meet and then returning the uniquely numbered dollar bill to the russian spymaster so it could be used at a future date.

    It seems as though the KGB was a far better clandestine organization than the CIA. Wilson’s women and his son were used to get to him while Ulysses seems to have the luxury of studying his adversary in complete safety. Wilson’s British counterpart was a double agent (similar to Kim Philby) who defected in the 1960’s.

    The evidence of WIlson’s son’s betrayal of the Bay of Pigs invasion plans was certainly not something the KGB spymaster would have swept under the rug simply out of some code of honor he shared with Wilson. When playing for keeps the way these guys did, I would think Ulysses would have made Mother his bitch.

  4. 5th of November Says:

    Hollywood is another gov’t propaganda tool. These “Good Shepards” will be the same people who start arresting you when you complain about the gov’t rountinely violating our Constitutional rights.
    They violate the 1st Amendment by caging demonstrators and banning books like “America Deceived” from Amazon.
    They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns during Katrina.
    They violate the 4th Amendment by conducting warrant-less wiretaps.
    They violate the 5th and 6th Amendment by suspending habeas corpus.
    They violate the 8th Amendment by torturing.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting 2 illegal wars based on lies and on behalf of a foriegn gov’t.
    Forget Hollywood, support indy media.
    Last link (unless Google Books caves to the gov’t and drops the title):

  5. Tim Says:

    Very interesting stuff! However, if you could, please break the text apart into paragraphs. Maybe it’s my browser, but everything looks like one long paragraph, and there are several topics you’re exploring. – Tim

  6. “The Good Shepherd”: When Patriotism Murders Humanity | Outlaw News Says:

    […] Truth To Power / December 27, 2006  […]

  7. unitedcats Says:

    As usual I am in awe of the scholarship in the post. I haven’t seen the movie and I won’t see it, I am already aware of the nightmarish scenario that unfolded after ww2 when America’s military and intelligence apparatus had unlimited resources and essentially zero oversight. They set out to remake the world in their image, (and not completely coincidentally manufactured a world where their budgets would never be cut,) committed terrible crimes along the way, and in almost all cases made things far worse in the long run in the pursuit of very short term simplistic goals.

    Sadly I fear that the “war on communism”” has morphed into the “war on Islam extremism” with little or no improvement from the mindset and history weakly portrayed in this movie. Scary stuff. JMO Doug

  8. offseason Says:

    Way to stick it to “the man” by not seeing a movie unitedcats. The more people ignore the movies they think that they may disagree with, the better off this world will be!

  9. Allan Desmond Says:

    I think i was a bit sad how they didn’t show how some the KGB agaents would take a metal file to “one’s ” teeth and file them to the root..to make agents against communism talk,..
    However as Marcus Wolf once said(the CI cheif for the East Germans)..we have Gulags to help our agaents..”what do you have?”

    Still a good flim when you consider the scope and time scale it addressed.

  10. unitedcats Says:

    Some of us educate ourselves about the world by reading a wide variety of books, magazines, newspapers. The more people think they are learning about the world by watching Hollywood movies (Hollywood movies btw, are entertainment)…the worse off the world will be. 🙂 JMO –Doug

  11. dumb bill Says:

    I’m here because I was afraid I didn’t understand the movie very well. Ms. Baker’s comments clarify the situation, but can she be trusted?
    I agree with the real? KGB defector when he implies that the global threat posed by the post WWII USSR was an invention of the CIA. Surely the US entered the war because it didn’t want to be left out of the spoils. While Normandy’s beaches gave us some blood equity, (by design?) it failed to justify our racing across Europe to start a 30 year cold war.
    It should be remembered that it wasn’t the 3rd Reich’s 6th Army, or the US which ultimately obliterated Stalingrad from the map.
    OK, back to the movie. When Wilson asked his wife the color of his newborn son’s eyes, the line went dead. Was Wilson seeking confirmation that it was his biological son? Margaret was rather quick to consumate her fiiendship with Wilson, after all. I preferred to believe the child was not his, which made it easier for me to spare any pity for Margaret.
    I suppose Wilson didn’t believe as sincere, his KGB counterpart’s assurances that his future daughter in law was no longer his operative.
    That, or he couldn’t countenance a Negro in his family in 1961. So, he had her thrown from a plane on her wedding day. I must admit I first hoped her wedding veil was a parachute, as I was hoping to get to know her a little better. Wilson’s subsequent embrace of his son, did remind me of Michael Corleone’s embrace of his older brother, just before he had him whacked. This movie was definetly a WASP movie. (maybe a couple of Catholics). The gay intellectual got it, the black girl got it, and if there is a sequel, I expect the deaf girl comes to a bad end as well.

  12. Cristhian Says:

    I watched that movie on the weekend. At the begining when he is on the bus the woman is speaking the kid in Polish, so that means that she is a Russian contact/messenger. I believe that Cardinal is the code name of Edward Wilson’s wife’s brother. If you look at the deleted scenes the FBI agen that Wilson befriends catches John Russell Jr. making dead drops at the train station. And eventually they are watching him walk into the Soviet embassy, in that scene Sam Murach asks Edward if he wants to stop him and Edward says “no, let him go”. Historically in Leopoldville the Russians had a hard time getting in. And Edward Jr.’s fiancee would have been killed by the C.I.A. since Ulysses believes in family and she was pregnant as he knew, but Edward didn’t until his son told him. So in return for doing the dirty work, Ulysses must now protect is brother in law. At least thats my theory.

  13. Cristhian Says:

    OMG I got it right after writing my last post I thought something. The cardinal rule of generosity is code talk from Wilson to Ulysses that he wants his son’s fiancee dead. If you think back to when Prof. Freddicks was killed he asked Mr. Hase why they had to do it, and he answered that the British were very civilized people that didn’t eat their own, as Freddricks had been a big help to the English cause. So Edward knows that this young woman is pregnant as Ulysses tells him indirectly, so he cannot kill his own grandchild, and has Ulysses do it for him. A cardinal rule of generosity. Like Freddricks had forshawdowed, Edward has lost his soul.

  14. dumb bill Says:

    Christhian, did you watch that movie more than once? lol
    What of Wilson’s incurred indebtedness to Ulysses? Is that the director leaving an opening for a sequel? Is this why we never invaded Cuba again?

  15. Alex Says:

    I was confused about his son-did he join the CIA?

    And Edward’s father-did he commit suicide because he was a disgraced government servant-an admiral? Could he have been involved in covert operations?

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  19. Who killed President Kennedy - Page 53 - SpartanTailgate.com - Michigan State Spartans Forums Says:

    […] were many rooms in the mansion. I was not privy to who struck John." — James Jesus Angleton (CIA); […]

  20. Mark Crane Says:

    Had Edward not betrayed his girlfriend with Angelina Jolie, his entire life would have been different. It is as if he inherited his father’s capacity for betrayal, and eventually became his father. Rather deterministic and tragic.

  21. Money Says:

    Cardinal was CIA’s top asset in Russia. You think Wilson is getting played by Ulysses but actually Ulysses’s right hand man (the hulking Russian guy) is Cardnial. They turn him early in the film when they are exchanging lists of German scientists. When Wilson gets handed the dollar early in the film it is Cardinal’s way of passing a message. Wilson passes a dollar back confirming the time and place of a dead drop in all likliehood. This way Cardinal never actually is seen with any CIA agents but can pass information along.

    What it boils down to is Wilson finds out his son actually betrayed the USA by telling the girl about the Bay of Pigs. So instead of giving up his son he uses the FBI files on Philip Allen to make him take the blame and step down as director or Central Intelligence.

    Wilson is a mix between a few different people. CIA wrote a review of the film and explains who these people are. You can read it on there website. DeNiro’s character is based on “Wild” Bill Donovan who was the head of the OSS during WWII and founded CIA.

    PS-Yes I am purposely not putting “the” in front of CIA. Also, although we have a fascination with Skull and Bones, there are several secret societies at Yale that all have deep connections to the founding of CIA. Also, check out Harvard and Princeton. Google Princeton secret societies and you’ll learn the origination of the term “Black balled”.

  22. Consuelo Says:

    Hello all, here every one is sharing such familiarity, thus it’s nice to read this blog, and I used to visit this website all the time.

  23. JT Says:

    There is some good info here but Its surprises me that no one even mentions the lines that Valentin Mironov spoke.

    The truth of the movie occurs in those lines!!!!!

    All the history of the agency is old news to me. The hidden secret in the film which is given to those in the know is right there in Mironov’s diagolgue..

    “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” is written on the wall in one seen.

    Valentin speaks the truth and then later stands up and says “I am free! ” just before he casts his life away.

    Go back and listen carefully to what he reveals.

    The true whistleblower, the truth speaker gives his life for freedom and liberty even if it only his own freedom that he can secure. This is the good shepherd, the only good man in the film.

    Everyone else is compromised.

    This was a really deep film!!!! The whole context is established by Mironov’s revelation. You will never understand the film maker’s intention until you start from that basis.

    Think, the hidden hand behind both CIA and KGB and the quote about “enemies can be friends and friends enemies.”

    Of course this is the unthinkable!

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