AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Flanigan
For all the chatter about Netflix’s descent into wokeism and embrace of left-wing identity politics, cultural commentators and political pundits have largely failed to point out an equally interesting trend emerging on the platform: its mountain of content that seems suspiciously close to pro-intelligence agency propaganda. If viewers didn’t know better, they might almost be tempted to wonder whether some of it was funded by the FBI or CIA themselves.
The notion that the intelligence community could be using Netflix as a propaganda outlet may seem far-fetched—and indeed, at this point any suggestion that it’s doing so is pure speculation. Nonetheless, some of the content being prominently featured on the streaming service is increasingly eyebrow raising.
While the entertainment industry has always had a big interest in intelligence and spy themed dramas and documentaries, the amount of openly pro-intel content being aggressively pushed by Netflix in recent years—right as the FBI and CIA have lost the confidence of large swaths of the American public—has been hard to ignore.
Looking at Netflix’s documentaries alone, the service produces a new spy series or film on a seemingly weekly basis, much of it with open cooperation from “former” agency officials. From this year’s Netflix-produced Spy Ops, in which “[i]intelligence operatives from MI6 to the CIA share insider stories of spy craft, Cold War campaigns, and coups carried out by covert agents” to 2021’s Spycraft, which suggests “the tools and technologies developed for [the spy game] have mattered as much as the spies themselves,” Netflix subscribers have no shortage of spy-centered content that positively champions the work of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Netflix has also been building a large library of fictional content that centers around often preposterous intelligence agency storylines which generally give a positive gloss to the agencies’ work.
2022’s heavily promoted Netflix show The Recruit features a “rookie lawyer at the CIA” who, despite a lack of experience and proper vetting, “stumbles headlong into the dangerous world of international espionage when a former asset threatens to expose agency secrets.” The story’s protagonist, Owen Hendricks, is described by The Spectator as a “comically inept, fish-out-of-water” character who “metamorphoses into a quick-thinking lawyer with an uncanny knack for talking his way out of trouble.”
The show also portrays the Senate Intelligence Committee as one of the show’s main villains, a not-so-subtle suggestion that Congressional oversight and political accountability are a hindrance to the proper functioning of federal intelligence agencies.
As The Spectator’s James Delingpole writes of the show, it comes across as little more than an “exercise in reputation management” for the CIA.
Another high-profile example of this trend is The Night Agent, a popular Netflix series that debuted earlier this year featuring another improbable storyline. The show follows an FBI agent, Peter Sutherland, who is stationed in a hidden room in the basement of the White House, where he awaits calls from fellow agents in need of help. Rather than reporting to an FBI official, he instead reports directly to the White House Chief of Staff, who is ultimately revealed to have hand-picked Sutherland for the top-secret role.
Netflix has also produced shows like Fubar, an action series described by the platform as being about a father and daughter who suddenly learn “they both secretly work for the CIA.” The Gray Man, a 2022 Netflix film, was written about “a shadowy CIA agent” who “uncovers damning agency secrets” and is then “hunted across the globe by a sociopathic rogue operative.”
Another high profile Netflix show puffing up the national security establishment is The Diplomat, starring Keri Russell, who plays the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom wrestling with, in the words of Netflix, her “turbulent marriage to a political star.”
The series raised the eyebrows not only of viewers, but also of the national political media. Politico described the series as “preposterous” and “genuinely ridiculous.” Slate wrote that the story “makes no sense.” Career diplomats have noted that the show is “far-fetched.”
Among the show’s many implausible plotlines are the lead character’s ascension to the post of ambassador without Senate confirmation, the fictional president’s consideration of a politically inexperienced ambassador as a vice presidential pick, and the absence of any reference to NATO and other obvious foreign policy realities that would certainly come into play in comparable real-life scenarios.
Of course, these shows make up just a small sample of an entire genre of content on Netflix that some might view as an exercise in propaganda. Perhaps most interesting of all is how prominently the shows have been featured by the service.
Upon watching these shows and others like them, one is left to ask: if the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies were themselves in charge of Netflix, would these shows look any different?
Congressional Republicans should start asking questions. They might just uncover a plot wild enough for fiction.
Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.