Angelina Jolie’s new film, Salt — about a CIA analyst accused of being a Russian sleeper agent — might have just seemed like another entertaining summer movie.
But the discovery and arrests last month of 10 Russian agents living under deep cover in the U.S. adds an intriguing new layer to the film. And it also serves as a stern reminder, says former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge.
“The term ‘Cold War’ may have been generally removed from our conversations, but the notion that we would spy on one another to secure information about aspirations and capabilities, that still exists,” Ridge says.
Metro caught up with Ridge and a panel of intelligence experts at the International Spy Museum just hours after the suspected spies were exchanged in Vienna. Oleg Kalugin, a former major-general for the KGB, was startled by the swiftness of the arrests and exchange — as well as the number of suspected operatives taken into custody. “I watch the 10 guys who were caught as illegals, I thought, ‘That’s total decadence.’ It looked to me a waste of human resources.”
Kalugin admits that while he was stationed in the U.S., he knew of some “illegals” — or spies living abroad with no official ties to their home government — but there were far fewer.
“In my time when I was operational in the United States, we did have a couple of guys, and they had very specific missions,” he admits. “One had a very special mission. His job was to act in case the United States and the U.S.S.R. were close to military conflict. Then this illegal would blow up the power line grids in the Washington area so there would be no power. And second, poison water supplies in the Washington area — not to kill people, just make them sick.”
Former CIA intelligence officer Melissa Boyle says some of the scenes are over the top.
“Espionage is chess, and chess makes boring film.” Boyle served as a consultant on the film, helping Jolie. “She just really sucked my brain dry trying to get details to help her put together her character,” said Boyle, who is quick to point out one thing: “I am not Salt.”
Jolie might beg to differ: “She probably didn’t realize I was just studying her,” Jolie tells Metro. “As I was asking her questions, really I was watching her mannerisms and her behavior.”