A new series on Showtime called Homeland is about a CIA agent (played by Claire Danes) who believes that a newly-released American prisoner of war may have been “turned” during his years in Iraqi captivity. In the first episode, she tries to find evidence to support her belief. Judging by that episode, it is very good.
What is interesting here is the schism between the fictional world and real world of counterespionage. In the former, it is an issue of “who”. Find the guilty man and arrest or kill him. In the real world, the issue is vulnerability. The bureaucracy has two choices: admit its methods are vulnerable to penetration and paralyze the organization, or deem the search for a mole to be paranoia and sick think. That latter course is what happens in the real world, alas. Some fiction writers understand this: Graham Greene in Human Factor and Le Carre in Smiley’s People.
Yes. If you go back in time, I predict you will find that the term kill the messenger arose at the same time as powerful organizations. I have a theory: Only people who derive power from their placement in big organizations want to kill the messenger (who says the organization assumes something not true). In other situations, bad news is less threatening. In health care, outside ideas are met by insiders, such as doctors, with where’s the double-blind placebo-controlled study? As Epstein says, the dismissiveness is partly motivated by fear: fear that something is wrong with their system and its values.