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Netflix’s “Spycraft” features Prof. John Sano and alumnus Dr. David Charney

John Sano, Photo from Spycraft on Netflix
IWP Professor John Sano, former Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service, was featured on Netflix’s “Spycraft.”

IWP Professor John Sano, alumnus Dr. David Charney, and several IWP guest speakers are featured in Netflix’s series Spycraft (released January 2021), which documents the most prolific covert technologies and operations of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Professor John Sano appeared in three episodes, in which he commented on aspects of espionage from spy-handler communications to the recruitment of intelligence officers. In the episode “Clandestine Collection,” he described the term “spycraft” as anything from “tiny bugs that we would plant to eavesdrop, all the way up to the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2 satellites.” He stressed the importance of looking at counterintelligence operations as existing at every level of scale: that cyber-attacks, surveillance, and technology range from the “miniature up to the massive.”

He also discussed the considerations of which spies and their handlers must be aware when meeting face to face in the episode titled “Covert Communication.” He revealed that if a handler and his or her spy cannot ensure that they are meeting free of surveillance, it “could potentially jeopardize” the spy’s position and the entire operation.

Additionally, Professor Sano shared his knowledge of counterintelligence in the episode “Recruiting the Perfect Spy.” The episode discussed the motivations individuals have to become spies, including money, ideology, compromise, and ego. He discussed how counterintelligence agencies have to monitor the spending of their informants because they “don’t want them to raise their profile – because if they do, that draws attention to them.”

At IWP, Professor Sano teaches courses on Covert Action and National Security (IWP 678),  The Role and Importance of Human Intelligence (IWP 668), North Korea and the Geopolitics of Northeast Asia (IWP 689), as well Writing for National Security Professionals (IWP 689).

In addition to employing Professor Sano’s expertise in the episode “Recruiting the Perfect Spy,” Netflix sought the additional knowledge of IWP alumnus Dr. David Charney. Dr. Charney is a prominent psychologist and an expert in the field of the insider spy; he is also a U.S. intelligence consultant. In this episode, he revealed that one of the most motivating factors to becoming a spy includes an individual’s ego. He explained how ego is “a really powerful driver of what makes men choose to do what they do in life.” Dr. Charney also explained that being able to cross the line over to treason “requires that you reframe what you’re doing as somehow the right thing to do.” He went on to say, however, that despite the monetary gains these spies acquire, they “will wake up one morning with a sense of remorse. And the signature expression is, ‘what was I thinking?’”

Dr. Charney was also featured in the “Sexpionage” episode, in which he described how male spies who worked for the East German Stasi would steal secrets from West Germany by forming romantic relationships with women who worked for the government there.

Dr. Charney is a psychiatrist and the Founder and Medical Director of Roundhouse Square Counseling Center. He is also the founder of NOIR for USA, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and promote the NOIR concepts and ideas which are intended to improve our national security by fixing the problem of insider spies in an innovative way. Although he had worked with an actual spy before studying at IWP, he credits his time at IWP for introducing him “to the whole realm of academic thinking and experience of the IC with all these different spies.”

In addition to Prof. Sano and Dr. Charney, several IWP guest lecturers were featured in this series. In the episode on “Clandestine Collection,” Michelle Van Cleave, former National Counterintelligence Executive, spoke about Chinese penetration into the U.S. government. Ms. Van Cleave has spoken at IWP on “Foreign Spies and the U.S. Response” and “Cyber Intelligence and Security after the OPM Breach.” Most recently, she spoke with IWP students in a private roundtable discussion in fall 2020.

Also in the episode on “Recruiting the Perfect Spy,” Sandy Grimes, a twenty-six year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, described her experience in catching Aldrich Ames, a CIA Case Officer who had been spying for the Soviet Union. Ms. Grimes spoke on this topic at IWP in 2018. In the episode on “Covert Communication,” Ms. Grimes spoke about her work with Dmitri Polyakov, a Major General in the GRU who revealed Soviet secrets to the U.S.

In the episode on Special Ops and the Saboteur, Chris Costa, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism on the National Security Council and current Executive Director of the International Spy Museum, spoke about how the American military uses tactics inherited from Robert Rogers, who led Rogers’ Rangers in the French and Indian War. At IWP, Mr. Costa discussed “The Global Counterterrorism Fight Since 2017” in January 2020.

Below are some videos of Prof. Sano, Dr. Charney, Ms. Grimes, Ms. Van Cleave, and Mr. Costa elaborating on the themes that they covered in Spycraft:

Watch Spycraft on Netflix

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