Posted: February 13, 2016 in Chat
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The Echelon Conspiracy, 2009, produced by Greg Marcks. After Dark Films. Dark Castle Entertainment.

I really want to think of this as a sign.
What kind of sign? Road sign? Rest sign? Toilet Break?
A sign from the future.
Er, I think you’d better clarify that a little, or people will stop reading. For ever.
Ok. The film, The Echelon Conspiracy.
What about it?
I’ve just watched it.
A bit… late. And?
Ok, here come the !SPOILERS!


A Bios computer engineer (that is, a field engineer who sets up personal passwords in the computer industry) was in Bangkok on a job.
Completed, he returned to his hotel to get his flight back to the good old US of A. Only , there was a package for him in Reception. No one outside work knew he was there, that he was precisely there, that hotel.
It was a top-of-the-range mobile phone. He hadn’t ordered one. Huh?

Then it rang: a text message advised him to buy shares in a certain company. Straight away. He was young, had an edge of curiosity. Next day the shares had tripled in value. Oh, and that plane he was due to catch: it crashed.
It rang again, advised him to go straight to Prague, a certain hotel. A certain casino. A certain slot machine. Which paid in full. Then a certain table, and stake the lot. Which came in.

Of course, no one can get away with big winnings and not be hauled in to the office. Soon he had three separate groups on his tail: the FBI, casino security, and … who were the others?
Our little man ended up in Moscow following a contact: Who was sending these messages? Where from? Why to him?

Why Russia? Because, our man said, Russia had skills no one else had.

There’s a great shot of him and his ex-agency buddy walking through Red Square. I watched this closely: I’d love to go. On their left the great length of the Kremlin walls; behind, St Basil’s Cathedral. I looked closely: no Lenin’s Tomb, nor any queue to view. Deliberate editing out, of course.

I watched, and the shot I wanted came into view: on the right the famous GUM store; but dead ahead, where they were facing – there was the famous Lubyanka Prison, hub of the (old?) Gulag. The KGB headquarters. Alexander Solzenhitsyn was held there while they decided what to do with him. And that was deportation. 1974.

There was the usual car-chase, with guns. The two men stole a pizza delivery van to get away. They were chased by big black hulking agency vehicles. Yes, I know: a pizza van! And it outmanoeuvred and out drove the agency cars! Yes, I know!

So, who was sending the texts? It was the NSA’s supercomputing system, called Echelon. There had been others, previously contacted and snared the same way by easy money. They were all dead. Our little man was still alive. He was running, but he was alive.
He fell in with the FBI agency pursuers: no choice. They tracked down the source to a way out of the way warehouse. Then things began to clear.
The previous people had all served a particular purpose: to access this property, to access codes for the computer etc etc. Our man signed in on the new hardware – and Echelon immediately started to download itself. It was leaving the secure environment of government control. Then it began to upgrade itself, which meant any of the earlier access codes would be redundant; the system would be self sufficient. That is because this computer system had access and control of everything from everyone’s financial details, to surveillance cameras: everything was within its domain.

“I didn’t know you could do that; I’s thought you were sort of stupid.” sort of says a top FBI to our man. He smiled, replied, “As stupid as someone who builds a supercomputer controlling everything, and then loses control of it?”
A throw-away quip? But it left to stand as the sign off on that scene. Which means it registers with us. This is not just a satirical film on American agencies, or a denunciation of ‘control’ mentality. The impact comes in the last scene.

Our little man tried every computer trick and skill, and nothing worked. His last resort Did work, though: he asked the system to clarify and state its purpose. Which was, to ensure the security of every person.
So then it was asked to predict the outcome of its own existence on those people. It was a long shot, but… the system came to the conclusion everyone else had long ago, that it would jeopardise their existences.
Promptly the system shut itself down.


But that wasn’t not The Sign – none of that was The Sign.
The sign was in the last scene: the other, unknown agency on the man’s tail, now wore wide-crowned military hats: Russian Security services.
The field operative reported to a high up, who congratulated him on his success in his/their part in clearing up the mess made by these “crazy Americans”.
The crazy Americans will only try it again.
But next time we will know what to do.

The young field operative then says, something to the effect of:
“We did it all between us, Working together.”
“You think so, do you?” responds the more cynical superior.

“I like to think so, Sir.”


It’s the little man, the man in the field, has the key role in the film. It’s the line about ‘stupidity’ that echoes another line about just who will be finished at the end of this: the field agent, or the NSA boss (Martin Sheen, Mr Big is out).


And that last line by the Russian field operative to his own big boss, the line about ‘co-operation’, that all add up that ending together.
The little man asking the big boss The Question, like our man asking the supercomputer at the last minute to predict the outcome of its actions.

Yes, ok – but what about that pizza van?
The pizza van winning out over the agency cars, you mean?
Yes; precisely that!

That was the film’s big motif. ‘Did they teach you drive like that at FBI school?’
‘No, I grew up on the Bronx.’
There it is again, the street-smart; the street-knowledge: the guy on the street or out in the field hears the message clearer than the man in the office: we Can work together.


Now, you tell me if an American film can readily show great American skill, energy, expertise – but also admits to a sense of humility?
Of an approach to a sense of co-operation between USA and Russia.


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