When I was a lot younger than my college students today, the US TV viewing public sat in their living rooms enthralled for 177 episodes of a half-hour espionage thriller called “I Led Three Lives,” about a real-life double-agent of the FBI named Herbert Philbrick. He wrote a factual autobiography with the same name published in 1952, which I and thousands of other Americans happily devoured. The TV program ran for three years between 1953 and 1956. By today’s standards, that would be considered a phenomenon.
In any case, it was about Russian Communists trying (and succeeding) to infiltrate the United States on practically every level, something really and avidly investigated by the House Unamerican Activities Committee until its decline in the late 1950s, and especially by the Senate investigations associated with and often led by the Republican Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, who subsequently lent his name to the frenzied “witch-hunts” of later times.
The Philbrick story factually and serially ended with a sensational trial in 1949 that resulted in the conviction of eleven Americans accused of acting to overthrow the government. Undercover agent Herb Philbrick was a surprise witness whose testimony, with that of several other double-agents, sealed the fate of the defendants.
Flash forward to the Angelina Jolie thriller, Salt (2010) and the riveting TV drama series The Americans, starting in 2013 and still running. Stimulating spy stuff, full of bad Russians bent on inflicting mortal damage to the USA. And now… oops? The Mueller Indictments seem to be a return to the past — Russian agents actively recruiting and “duping” Americans in an attempt to bring down the Republic… or at least make it really miserable, apparently with notable success.
Did the KGB and its successors learn something from all that TV and film coverage of past decades? Or did Americans fail to? In any case, we have the repeated assurance from the highest levels of government that “There was no collusion. Absolutely no collusion.” Rest easy. It’s all make believe. Fake news. Or maybe not.