Espionage and secret operations are at the heart of each James Bond plot. The threat of subversion and espionage are key in developing the intrigue of the special agent Bond. The idea of a real threat to national allied security during the Cold War plays a prominent role in several of the popular films. Images and ideas that were associated with the prominent current events of the time leaked into the mainstream movie culture of James Bond. For the most part the plots of the James Bond films reinforced the dominant political understanding that communist forces were both hostile and a real threat. Although Bond dramatizes and romanticizes the role of a single secret agent in his “operations,” his work for the most part accurately represents popular sentiments of the time, and to a lesser extent, the real work preformed to counter the communist threat.
For the most part, Bond’s antics were in keeping with the geopolitical anxieties of the time. In popular James Bond movies spies on both sides are depicted gathering information from behind enemy lines and also spreading false information to the enemies. It is true that both sides used spies to varying degrees of success throughout the Cold War. A notorious case of espionage that occurred in the United States was the Rosenberg scandal, when the couple was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage during the cold war. They had attempted to pass Atomic Bomb secrets to the Soviets. Both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for this treason in 1953. Another man, Klaus Fuchs who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during World War II, was convicted of selling secrets of the Atomic bomb to the Soviets. These cases demonstrate that the threat of espionage during the Cold War was real, and not just an American paranoia, although the extent of espionage and the domestic threat was admittedly distorted by politicians like Joseph McCarthy.
Bond movies were a sort of “dream nightmare” for the American people who were entranced by the class of 007 in dealing with the evil doers. Americans were obsessed with the possibility of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the possibility of a rise in international terrorism. These movies voiced perfectly many of the anxieties Americans were feeling at the time. For example in the move Dr. No, the doctor, a member of the hostile group SPECTRE, attempts to gain control of a space launch at Cape Canaveral and instead launch a rocket at the American mainland. The threat of Dr. No, while fictional, represented the Americans’ real fear that they were vulnerable to Cuban and Soviet threats. The mad scientist Dr. No accurately portrays the Americans fear of the science that they had created and used to win WWII. Americans feared the power of nuclear weapons would land in the wrong hands, which in the movie were the hands of Dr. No, and SPECTRE, a symbol for the Soviet Union.
The evil network SPECTRE (Special Executive Counter- Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) is a fictional power in the James Bond films. An international terrorist group, SPECTRE attempts to use spies and counter intelligence tactics to weaken the enemy and achieve their end goal of world domination. SMERSH was the Soviet’s counter intelligence security detail, off of which SPECTRE was based. Translated, SMERSH (from the russian, СМЕРШ) means “Death to Spies”. Originally SMERSH was created to protect the Soviet Union internally from political threats and foreign espionage. SMERSH preformed a wide range of duties for the Soviet Union from finding counterrevolutionaries and foreign spies to protecting the Soviet Union’s secrets. Although SMERSH was an anti-spy group by name and SPECTRE was a terrorist group in the movies, it is no coincidence that a group of similar name cropped up in multiple James Bond movies. SPECTRE was a dramatized version of what most Americans saw SMERSH to be.
Although Bond’s movement and the concept of an ultra spy may seem outlandish, the CIA did fund an operation similar to what Bond undertakes. In 1948, a branch of the Counter Intelligence Agency (CIA) called the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was formed. The OPC was the covert arm of the CIA responsible for espionage and counter intelligence projects. Rather than taking diplomatic channels to achieve their goals, the OPC used stealth and secret missions, much as in the same way as what is depicted in the James Bond films. The OPC had another major facet to it as well. Much of the OPC’s resources went to an internal fight against the “communist threat” in the media. Titled Operation Mockingbird, the OPC carried out plans to control what the public thought by influencing what was written in newspapers, magazines, books and even movies. The most famous outcome of Operation Mockingbird is the very famous book Animal Farm by George Orwell. Although this portion of the OPC’s operations is not featured in James Bond films there are many similarities between the way Bond and his British intelligence agency operated and the workings of the OPC. For example many of the agents on the OPC were unidentifiable to ensure plausible deniability in the event that they were compromised during a mission of dubious legality. This is much like what occurs in the films, as Bond himself seems to transcend normal human laws while working to complete his mission.
Although for the most part James Bond does present an accurate if somewhat dramatized picture of the post WWII world, there are some discrepancies in this films’ representation of society. The first is that James Bond is a spy from Britain, which could lead one watching the films to believe that Britain was on the forefront of the Cold War. This was not the case as America was the major player in the Cold War against the Soviets and other red forces, with countries like Britain playing only a supporting role. Britain during the post war period was not nearly as powerful as the films portray it to be. For one thing, Britain had suffered a lot as a result of the long war. During the period of the Cold War, Britain was actually declining as a major colonial power, losing a grip on many of it holdings in Africa and India. Conversely, during the period following WWII, the power of the United States was growing as it benefited from the weakness of other countries that had been more gravely affected by the war like Britain and France. However, while the Bond films do not paint a factual picture of America and Britain during the war, they do show that the two countries had a strong alliance during the post war years, which is absolutely true. In fact, the CIA’s Frank Wisner said in reference to Great Britain’s help during the Cold War, “Whenever we want to subvert any place, we find the British own an island within easy reach.” In the movies Bond can be interpreted to represent not solely Great Britain, but the larger free world working to counter a communist threat.
The original James Bond books by Ian Flemming have many more direct connections and references to international affairs of the time than the films let on. Some of the more overt references had to be taken out or adapted for the movies so that the films would not be so openly political. However, many of the aspects of spy culture in the books still remain true, as author Ian Flemming was a former war time intelligence officer who based some of the aspects of the books on his real life experiences.