In the final moments of Sydney Pollack’s 1975 film 3 Days of The Condor Joe Turner (Robert Redford) takes his CIA adversary Higgins (Cliff Robertson) to the door of the New York Times building. For the duration of the film Joe, a low level CIA employee, has been on the run after unwittingly uncovering a plot by the US government to take over the Middle East’s oil fields. He and Higgins have been involved in game of cat and mouse until finally Turner reveals to Higgins that he has told the New York Times ‘a story’. Higgins looks shocked, he tells Turner he’s done ‘more harm than good.’ Turner hopes so, but as he begins to walk away believing he’s exposed the plot, Higgins’ shock turns to sinister arrogance and he calls out to Turner, ‘How do you know they’ll print it?’ Now Turner looks anxious. Higgins, repeats again, ‘How do you know?’ This time he is almost smiling. Turner turns and slips into the Manhattan crowd, the camera freezes and it dawns on us as it does him – he doesn’t know. The truth, even in the right hands, won’t necessarily see the light of day.
3 Days of the Condor final scene (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5oHT6ojvIs)
3 Days of the Condor, along with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, and Michael Mann’s The Insider were key influences for Hardwire. In Hardwire a jilted mistress, Kelly Hutchinson, attempts to leak information on her former employer – the cold and morally bankrupt CEO of a global commodities trading company. However, just as in these films, she finds the world lying behind the news headlines is morally complex. One where survival, power and money often outmuscle ideals of truth and justice.
At The Guardian, where I’ve worked for a few years, journalists receive hundreds of unsolicited calls, packages of documents and data sticks a year. Sometimes they are front page material, most often they are cranks, green inkers and the ramblings of mad men. Sifting through this on a daily basis, I realised the precarious nature of truth and revelation. Condor’s ending, like its prescient plot, suddenly seemed very real.
In the development of Hardwire it became clear that some of the biggest stories of the last few years have echoed this struggle. A few years ago the governments of numerous nations were embarassed by a private with what appeared to be a Lady Gaga CD containing thousands of classified diplomatic cables. More recently the US government is rocking from Edward Snowden’s revelations on the workings of the NSA.
These stories emerged, controversially, thanks to tenacious reporters, driven whistleblowers and courageous editing, but it could so easily have been different. There are many in press and government that were against the publication of these stories some arguing that security could be compromised and lives put at risk. It is possible that these stories might never have been published at all. What if someone had got to Snowden first? What if Bradley Manning had been stopped before he reached Wikileaks? What if the wrong journalist had taken possession of the information?
Has the ability to self-publish information freely on the internet changed the game since the era of 3 Days of The Condor? Perhaps, but human error, self interest, betrayal or those working in the interests of national safety are still, and will always be, barriers to the truth. Wherever truth or information tries to emerge there will be someone or something that wants to suppress it. Whether it’s a corporation like Trafigura who wishes to conceal internal documents exposing their scandalous working practices or GCHQ’s attempt – citing the interests of national security – to smash hard drives containing further Snowden/NSA revelations deep in the Guardian’s basement.
Although steeped in the genre of noir and influenced by the paranoiac films of the seventies, Hardwire’s premise has never been more relevant. It reflects on the struggle between those that strive to expose the truth and those determined to keep it hidden. It looks at their motives and asks us to consider – how much is there that we don’t know? How many stories might never reach the light of day? What headlines are never written?
- Adam Dewar