Burn Notice – The spy’s mom Madeline, his best buddy Sam, spy Michael Westen, and his ex-girlfriend Fiona.
One of the latest TV shows on deception is Burn Notice. It’s another update of the old Mission Impossible TV series where a team of spies deceives and cons the bad guys without relying on more brutal methods (such as, I don’t know, assassination?)
In the show, a spy named Michael Westen is "burned" – forcibly retired – from his spy agency. The show has two main plot lines: in one, Mr. Westen tries to discover who "burned" him, and in the other, he works with his friends to help others out of jams using the deceptive skills he learned as a spy.
So where does the show get their ideas on deception?
Series creator and writer Matt Nix says:
"Our primary source is the consulting producer on the show, Michael Wilson, who worked in intelligence and sort of around these things over the course of his career and can give us a lot of stuff. We also read a lot of books and source material and stuff like that. We even talk to law enforcement.
In a roundabout way, we end up drawing on any arena where you can find interesting technique related to deception. We’ve gotten things from undercover narcotics officers. We’ve gotten things from the ATF. We’ve gotten things from folks at the actual CIA, all over the place and reading tons of books. Foreign intelligence agencies tend to be really useful, so histories of particularly the intelligence agencies like the KGB or the Mossad or the agencies that do the more hardcore, devious stuff and certainly the Soviet Union don’t have to worry about a judiciary that’s going to come down really hard on them so the pallet is a little bid broader. I’d say on a day to day basis, we talk to Michael Wilson a lot but we also do a lot of other research."
Does anyone worry about what the show might teach others? Mr. Nix says it’s all about discretion, and intent:
"I suppose that Burn Notice might be the occasion for someone to realize that it is possible to make a particular kind of homemade explosive, right? But all we will ever teach is something like Vaseline or brake fluid happen to be major components. We didn’t get into the specifics. The bottom line is, if anybody really wanted to do anything, they would still have to do so much research. Well, start with an engineering degree. I feel like we’re on pretty safe ground. Moreover, [we use] stuff that exists in the world and that is scary, and that is bad, but Michael Westen is taking those things and using them on behalf of the good guys. That’s what people respond to about the show. It’s a kind of a reversal."
What’s interesting is that much of this deceptive information is available in books and articles – it’s not secret. And it’s okay to use these deceptive techniques because they’re used by the good guys to hurt the bad guys. I imagine if the show was called "The Terrorist’s Handbook" and the main character was named Mohamed and went to a mosque, there would be a lot more scrutiny, wouldn’t there?
A jihadist "Burn Notice" was not considered.
Burn Notice, USA Network>>
Burn Notice, Wikipedia>>
Interview on Nice Girls TV>>
Interview on Deadline>>