Employees at the secretive National Security Agency were not too happy about the 1998 blockbuster film "Enemy of the State" that starred Will Smith.
That shouldn't come as a surprise — the spy agency was portrayed as the villain — but now BuzzFeed News has obtained internal emails that prove it.
"I saw a preview for the new movie 'Enemy of the State' and to my surprise found out that NSA were the 'bad guys' in it," wrote one NSA employee in a question to the agency's public affairs team.
Directed by Tony Scott, the film was highly critical of NSA. The plot began with agency operatives murdering a congressman opposed to a surveillance bill — which was caught on tape — setting off a cat-and-mouse game between attorney Robert Dean (played by Will Smith) and agents trying to pursue him.
The film depicted the agency as having vast technical know-how and incredible surveillance capabilities (many of which were later confirmed by the Edward Snowden leaks). Once he saw the film, then-NSA Director Lt. Gen Michael Hayden saw a PR nightmare, telling CNN in 2001: "I made the judgment that we couldn't survive with the popular impression of this agency being formed by the last Will Smith movie."
"Unfortunately, truth isn't always as riveting as fiction and creative license may mean that 'the NSA,' as portrayed in a given production, bears little resemblance to the place we all work," an NSA official wrote, in response to an employee question about the NSA portrayed as villains.
Though the Snowden documents have not shown evidence of NSA agents killing congressman and others it disagrees with, they have offered evidence of many of the surveillance capabilities the film depicted. These include telephone wiretaps, GPS trackers, email intercepts, and other technology that has typically been used in drone strikes on suspected terrorists.
The NSA was initially supportive of the film and met with Scott, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and Executive Producer Andy Davis with the hopes of painting the agency in a positive light. Those hopes were quickly dashed at the film's release, though some were annoyed even as it was still in production.
"I was standing in the parking lot staring like an idiot, wondering why this helicopter with some strange object underneath it was hovering above me," writes an employee whose name is redacted, though his apparent nickname of "Cheebie" is still visible in the documents. "Will Touchstone be getting in touch with me so I can get paid for my appearance in this movie? Because I have no intention of allowing my image to be used for free."
Unfortunately for Cheebie, NSA's public affairs team was unable to stop the helicopter flyover due to FAA regulations. "Believe me, we tried," a public affairs official wrote.
Read the documents below (via BuzzFeed News):