Friday, May 22, 2015

"Echelon Conspiracy": Prescient of today's NSA, Snowden, Putin, and a whole worldwide cast of characters in cyberwar?


Echelon Conspiracy” (2009, Greg Marcks) is the second conspiracy film this week for me.  And this one is all of the map in anticipating the supposed abuses of the NSA and Edward Snowden’s revelations, but, in mixing in some sci-fi with some intimations of artificial intelligencve,  it piles on too many separate “plot pieces” to be believed.  The movie plot happens in a backdrop of the NSA’s wanting continued funding from Congress for its most clandestine activities. And today Congress struggles with renewing the Patriot Act. 
  

Max (Shane West) is appealing enough (even looking good in shorts) as a computer security engineer.  He starts getting bizarre text messages that change the course of his life.  One of them gets him to miss a flight from Bangkok that subsequently crashes.  Down the road, he gets another message that enables him to make a killing at a casino in the Czech Republic. I thought about the movie “21”.   But this is just hacking, not card-counting.  Furthermore, Max proves he can deal with others and manipulate them on the fly to “get what he wants”.
  
Max also contacts a (handsome) Russian hacker, Yuri (Sergey Cubanov) to take advantage of his “luck”.

The plot turns here as the casino security chief (Edward Burns) comes after him. But then the NSA jumps in, under the direction of Raymond Burke (Martin Sheen), who thinks that these incidents are signs of cyberwarfare directed from an AI system called Echelon.  Maybe it’s quantum computing, and maybe it’s run by the Russians, or maybe it’s run deeper within our own CIA and NSA (in the midpoint of the film, the project is identified as belonging only to the NSA, but don't believe it). Of course, now Max runs for his life. 

The movie really doesn’t give a very credible picture of how international intrigue really works, being too fast-paced (brief at 100 minutes).  But it is a spectacle to watch, with scenes of Bangkok and Moscow (especially the Kremlin, for real).  It finally winds up in Nebraska (near SAC).
  
The epilogue, with Yuri’s shaving his face (not his chest) before a meeting in Moscow, is enigmatic.  Does it anticipate what Vladimir Putin is doing now?
   
As a matter of credibility, I don’t think I would “obey” a sequence of texts I got sent to my smart phone, even if the first one could save my life. 
   
Paramount no longer has an official site for the film.  I wonder why studios don’t keep these up.  I rented the film from Netflix.  This film is much more "conventional" than the quirky indie "The Conspiracy" reviewed earlier this week. 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Kremlin by Alexander Gusev, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 license.

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