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CIA study: tedious fascinating

For those of us who have been secretly yearning for a strengthening of the CIA so that it once again could have the power to act effectively in such places as Iran and Cuba, there is a long, tedious, redundant, but provocatively effective film which should be required viewing.

In either its long TV form or in (one hopes) a shortened theatrical version, "On company Business" (PBS, Friday, May 9, 16, 23, 9-10 p.m., check local listings for premieres and repeats) focuses its attention on the Central Intelligence Agency from its inception to the present day, and on what the program sees as its horrendous misjudgments, its atrocious mischief, all of its major faults which the free flow of information in this country has allowed producers Howard Drach and producer/director Allan Francovich to gather, collate , and present for the edification of generations of Americans with short memories.

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Whatever good the CIA has accomplished is seldom, if ever, mentioned (assuming that the films's creators believe that such actions are a reasonable part of the record).

Stylistically, "On Company Business" follows the pattern such a recent Marcel Ophul opus as "The Sorrow and the Pity," interspersing talking head interviews with newsreel shots and location-establishing footage. There is no commentary other than the repetitiously one-note attitudes of such witnesses as Philip Agee , William Colby, Richard Helms, James Wilcott, Victor Marchetti, David Phillips, and John Stockwell. It is a paranoid film which ascribes just about every anti-Soviet event of the past few decades to undercover CIA activities.

It is difficult to emerge (weary and disoriented) from a three-hour viewing of this film without believing that the CIA has altered the way of political life not only of America but of the world as well. The concept of deniability, feasibility, foreign policy mischiefs are discussed openly by ex-CIA personnel and anti-CIA authors who argue both for and against such tactics. Are these due to misguided idealism, to paranoia, to economic necessity, to changing times, to new forms of diplomacy? Is it really in our national interest? Do we have it under control now?

Such are the questions this three-hour film raises -- while offering no solutions. The viewer can formulate his own additional questions: Should the system be changed? How? Can we champion human rights at the same time as we abridge them in other parts of the world?

The emphasis on Chile, Cuba, Iran and Angola reflect the director's special interests -- but it is apparent that evidence of other CIA "mischief" could be uncovered if there is the will. The film discovers what it considers our own amoral, unethical, undemocratic, autocratic, maniacal, criminal activities, but never once does it take an honest look at the rest of the world and what it is doing along similar lines. Seldom does it find any viable alternatives.

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