The film, called ‘The Nevernight Connection,’ was produced by the FBI in collaboration with the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) and released on Wednesday, along with some helpful hints for clearance-holders who think they might be targeted by nefarious foreign agents.
The narrative follows an unlucky and naive former naval intelligence officer who is lured to Shanghai by a Chinese intel operative posing as an employee of a maritime research institute on a social networking site. After he’s overpaid to give a throwaway presentation, he is duped into turning over classified information to the operative.
Fortunately for truth, justice, and the American way, his probing conversations with former co-workers raise suspicions, and they report his unusual behavior to the proper authorities. The unfortunate ex-officer is arrested upon returning to the US, and it seems for a moment that the wily Chinese have been vanquished.
But the film ends with a shot of rows and columns of Chinese agents crammed into a dark room typing on their computers, presumably trying to lure wholesome American government workers with security clearances into similarly compromising situations.
“China’s intelligence services have targeted thousands of individuals in the US and other Western nations for recruitment using social networking platforms,” onscreen text reads, before quipping, “Think before you link” and asking viewers to “report suspicious social media activity” to the FBI.
The FBI posted some helpful hints to clearance-holders alongside the video, warning them against accepting online job offers that were “too good to be true” with abnormally high salaries and unusual flexibility and to be wary of flattery. Viewers were also warned against being diverted from whatever (presumably American) social media platform they were using onto another (presumably Chinese) platform – in the film, it’s WeChat, which the US government has attempted to ban.
‘The Nevernight Connection’ is based on the story of former CIA officer Kevin Mallory, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for selling classified information to a Chinese agent over the course of multiple trips to Shanghai. He’s far from the only intelligence agent to get caught up in such a scheme – another ex-CIA officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, was sentenced to 19 years in prison just a few months after Mallory for allegedly serving up information that allowed Chinese security services to take down an entire network of CIA informants in China, and a number of similar cases have emerged over the years. Assistant attorney general John Demers called the phenomenon an “alarming trend” at the time of Mallory’s sentencing.
It’s not clear what led the FBI to package its latest anti-China propaganda piece in the form of a fictional film adaptation, but it’s hardly the agency’s first foray into cinema. Like the CIA and the Pentagon, the FBI has consulted on hundreds of Hollywood films over the years, and even runs screenwriting workshops to ensure writers portray it favorably. With ‘The Nevernight Connection,’ they merely cut out the middleman.
The film also has echoes of former Trump campaign director Steve Bannon’s cringeworthy ‘Claws of the Red Dragon,’ another anti-China propaganda film “inspired by real life events” – in that case, the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was apprehended in Canada en route to Mexico and is facing extradition to the US on charges of alleged fraud and skirting American sanctions.
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