#2. Cold War Era Spying
Where You've Seen It:The Bond Franchise, The Bourne Trilogy, The Manchurian Candidate
International relations during the Cold War were one long chase scene starring men in trench coats trying to kill each other with weapons disguised as things that aren't weapons. If you've only seen one James Bond film, you know that being a Cold War era spy was freaking awesome. If you haven't, the movie posters for You Only Live Twice should do in a pinch.
The only people not jerking James Bond off in this poster are James Bond and the woman limbering up to have sex with James Bond.
Bond was created by a real spy: Sir Ian Fleming, whose work with the British intelligence community provided the real world experience necessary to create a character who could steer experimental aircraft with his penis.
Fleming wasn't the only creator of spy fiction with street cred in the intelligence community. John le Carre was a spy turned author responsible for most of the cloak and dagger stuff that made its way into movies. He was actively spying on the Russians when he wrote classics like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
Ian Fleming did indeed have a boss career in military intelligence. He once concocted a plan to crash a plane into the Thames to smoke out enemy soldiers. But as with most military careers, all the cool stuff happened in WWII -- the six year period when the entire world turned into a far-fetched, big budget action movie that Michael Bay would call indulgent. In the post-war period, the world's two most powerful nations found themselves in a Mexican standoff, so all the creative energy that had gone into killing Nazis was funneled into designing insane weapons that we couldn't actually use, except in novels and movies. We may not be privy to classified information, but if America had gone through with their plans to nuke the moon, or build a military base there, we probably would have heard about it by now.
Pictured: The American military without anyone to kill.
According to John le Carre's account of his time in the British intelligence community, the cloak and dagger spying that we've come to associate with the Cold War was also mostly imaginary. The job was often so boring that spies would go on fake missions, and basically play act the sort of stuff that made it into his books.
He tells a story of the first "secret mission" he went on across enemy lines in East Berlin with an older Intelligence Officer to meet a covert agent that never showed up. As the years passed, le Carre realized that the older agent "was not an undercover officer of M.I.6, his work was just as tedious and useless as ours." He goes on to talk about a form of madness that infected Cold War intelligence communities where agents chose paranoia and flights of imagination over the boring reality that nobody was trying to kill them.
Jay-Z has had an equally difficult time accepting this reality.
And you only need to look at the CIA spiking each other's drinks with LSD and other madness associated with Project MKULTRA to see that the American intelligence community was also guilty of letting their imagination get away from them. Sure, it might have led to some awesome stuff we don't know about yet, but it also led directly to the birth of the hippies (seriously). Nice job, spies.
#1. Being the World's Greatest Hacker
Where You've Seen It:Hackers, Swordfish, Live Free and Die Hard
According to the movies, hacking requires you to speed type in a foreign language that you can't understand unless your brain is half computer. The opening credits of the movie Hackers gives us a peek at what that looks like when the world's greatest hacker looks at New York City from a plane.
"Don't you people get it? Everything is computers."
In Swordfish, Hugh Jackman proves he's the world's greatest hacker by speed typing his way into the Department of Defense with a gun to his head and while a woman gives him a blow job. That might sound easy to those of us who need both of those things just to write a comedy article, but he's typing such utter gibberish at such an incredible rate, you can't help but be intimidated.
"Hack harder! You're not hacking it hard enough!"
Also, you apparently must be objectively handsome and get your hair done at the same place as early '90s boy bands.
Kevin Mitnick was the real world's most wanted hacker around the time most hacker movies came out. Prior to his arrest and sentencing in 1999, Mitnick managed to hack the L.A. bus system to get free rides (as a 12-year-old no less), and hack into Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu Siemens computer systems using a technique called social engineering. Then when he got out of jail, he became one of the nation's foremost experts on computer security. So essentially he was like that guy in Catch Me If You Can, except using some advanced hacker technique that probably involved fluttering away at keys you didn't even know your computer had, right?
Actually, Mitnick's career suggests that becoming the world's greatest hacker doesn't require you to know how to use a computer at all. For instance, "social engineering" is just telling well researched lies. In an excerpt from his new book Ghost in the Wires, Mitnick recounts the time he "compromised the Social Security Administration through an elaborate social engineering attack." Sounds complicated right? Actually, he just found the agency directory, called up a lady who had the information he wanted, pretended to be her superior and asked her for it. In an excerpt from the audio book, he recounts another social engineering attack that basically amounted to making a fake badge at Kinkos, and sneaking in the door behind someone returning from a smoke break.
Of course Mitnick is only one man, and there are certainly hackers out there creating viruses using code you'd need a degree in computer programming to understand. They just aren't the guys that you go to when you absolutely need to get inside Nokia's database. The world's greatest hacker needs to understand how to use the tools they create to get the information you want. Or you could do it the old-fashioned way and create fake badges at Kinkos, and prank phone calls. Either way, you don't need to learn a new language, or see computers everywhere you look, or even be able to type particularly fast. You just need what all good con-men have always needed: balls and a good poker face.
Also, the real hacking community appears to be willing to look the other way if you don't qualify as classically handsome, or have early '90s boy band hair.
He must have had sick abs.
Jack O'Brien is the founder and Editor in Chief of Cracked.com. You can follow him on Twitter, or consume him in all new podcast formula, and hear about the early days of Cracked and why your flashbulb memories are bullshit.
Check out some of his earlier stuff like Graduation Special: How to Ace Your First Job Interview and 8 Important Lessons Learned from '80s Cartoons.