Hollywood gives star treatment to the CIA Memorial Wall

Over the years, movies and television shows have featured the agency’s iconic Memorial Wall and its rows of black stars. Below are three of the best examples. (For anyone looking for a definitive history of those honored on the wall, you should read “Book of Honor” by former Washington Post staff writer Ted Gup. The CIA’s Web site also has important information about its history here and here.)

1) “Homeland,” season 3, episode 12, “The Star.” (2013)


The season ends with the new CIA director reading aloud several names from the Book of Honor at the agency’s annual memorial ceremony. During the event, the show’s main character Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) is upset because she had unsuccessfully lobbied the CIA director to place a star on the Memorial Wall for the traitor-turned-asset Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), her on-again-off-again lover who had just been hanged to death in Iran on an undercover assignment. After the ceremony’s over and everyone has gone home, Carrie pulls out a marker and draws a star for Brody onto the Memorial Wall, despite the presence of two security guards. (This would never happen in real life, clearly.)

2) Covert Affairs, season 2, Episode 9, “Sad Professor,” (2011)


The show’s main character, CIA case officer Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), learns for the first time that one of her former Georgetown University professors turns out to be an agency colleague who has just been killed in the line of duty. The episode concludes with the agency’s annual memorial ceremony in front of the Memorial Wall. After the CIA director’s speech, he presents the professor’s widow with a gold star, but not the marble replica that is given out in real life.

3) “The Recruit,” (2003)


Computer programming expert and MIT senior James Clayton (Colin Farrell) has always been haunted since childhood by the mysterious death of his father, who he believed perished in a plane crash in Peru working in the oil business. So, when CIA officer Walter Burke (Al Pacino) recruits Clayton as an agency operative in his final days at MIT, the recruiter entices Clayton with information on his father’s past. The seduction works. On his first day at Langley, Clayton stares at the Memorial Wall and Book of Honor (which is filled with the names of the movie’s assistants, not the names that actually appear in the real Book of Honor.) “Those are good officers. Good friends,” Burke tells Clayton. Then the MIT graduate stares at the Book of Honor and sees that a 1990 star is anonymous, still considered covert. By the movie’s end, Clayton, who is considering leaving the agency, reveals that Burke is corrupt. A higher-up tries to keep the recruit by saying: “You were born to do this…it’s in your blood.” The film then ends, flashing back to the 1990 entry in the Book of Honor, a clear signal that Clayton finally believes his father died in the line of duty as a CIA operative.

Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team and enjoys writing about people who have served in the military and intelligence communities. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered education, criminal justice, technology, and art crime.
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