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From the CIA to Hollywood

Rodney Faraon PictureOur interview of Rodney Faraon for “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available today for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere. Rodney is a former CIA analyst and president of Aardwolf Creative, a firm developing CIA themed dramas for tv and the movies.

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A transcript of the full interview follows:

 

Jon: I am joined today by Rodney Faraon. Welcome to the podcast.

Rodney: Thank you, Jon.

Jon: You are former CIA.

Rodney: I am. I was a CIA analyst for 15 years.

Jon: And is there such a thing as former CIA?

Rodney: Yes, there is and I'm an example of one.

Jon: Okay.

Rodney: But I will say this though. Depending on how you left, most of us leave with really warm feelings towards the agency, and it was like a family environment and so you never lose the ties to your old high school as I say.

Jon: And you are a current partner at the Crompton Group.

Rodney: Right.

Jon: And you’re current president of Aardwolf Creative.

Rodney: Right, exactly.

Jon: Let me start at the start.

Rodney: Okay.

Jon: Where are you from originally?

Rodney: I was born in Kansas City – go Chiefs. I lived there for about 10 years and then moved to Des Moines, Iowa for my formative junior high and high school years.

Jon: You went to college where?

Rodney: At Georgetown University.

Jon: How did you get from Iowa to Georgetown?

Rodney: Well, it was actually pretty simple, at least for me, because I really wanted to go to a college that was going to offer me the best chance to get me to my dream job, which was to join the Central Intelligence Agency.

Jon: So you knew in high school that's what you wanted to do?

Rodney: I did mainly because of the influence of pop culture, which was Jack Ryan and The Hunt for Red October and John le Carrè. Jack Ryan in particular held some interest from me because he was a smart guy. He is an analyst, and I thought that, look, if I love writing and I love thinking about problems and how to solve them, that seems to me to be a great place to put my talents on the big stage where I can try to shape, affect, and inform national security decisions. And like Jack, I wanted to join the CIA.

Jon: I'm jumping ahead a little bit. How many of the people that are actually at the CIA had those kinds of dreams when they were young?

Rodney: That's a good question. They're definitely more than a few. For example, my partner Hank Crumpton, when he joined – he joined at a very young age, he joined at the age of 21 – he was really interested and fascinated by the world of espionage and high stakes diplomacy. So he also knew from a young age that this is the place he wanted to be.

Jon: So you go from Iowa, you're now in Washington DC at Georgetown.

Rodney: Right.

Jon: Which school at Georgetown?

Rodney: I was at the School of Foreign Service.

Jon: Do they have any distinguished alumni from the School of Foreign Service?

Rodney: Well, we have one president, former president, Bill Clinton.

Jon: That's what I was referring to.

Rodney: There's also the director of Central Intelligence George Tenet. He also went there.

Jon: It is the feeding ground, if you will, for government.

Rodney: It is absolutely, particularly for those who are interested in the international aspects of governments. It's a great place to learn, and the fact that the School of Foreign Service in particular focused on international relations was a revelation and dream to me. I thought “here's a place where I can actually spend all of my time in an environment studying my favorite subject with likeminded people.”

Jon: Is there a school that's even comparable?

Rodney: There are several other schools of international relations around the country.

Jon: Here’s you chance to brag about your school.

Rodney: I mean Georgetown is the oldest school of international relations, and I think certainly the largest. And the fact that it's in Washington, DC makes a big difference because – and American University and George Washington University, they also have schools of international service and whatnot but I think they will also say the same thing – that being in Washington means that you are close to the practitioners of the trade. And in fact, so many of my professors were adjuncts who also served in government positions of one kind or another.

Jon: That is the interesting thing about DC is I found that the celebrities are the politicians.

Rodney: Right. Well they do call Washington, Hollywood for ugly people.

Jon: There you go.

Rodney: I’m glad this is a podcast because I count myself in that.

Jon: So what year did you graduate from Georgetown?

Rodney: I finished in 1992.

Jon: What year did you start at the CIA?

Rodney: I started in 1991.

Jon: Tell me about that story. How did you go from Georgetown while you're still a student, to CIA?

Rodney: I recruited myself basically, and the situation was I went to Georgetown thinking that I would be tapped on the shoulder by some spotter who's acting as a professor at the university, much like you hear about MI6 British intelligence officer candidates being tapped on the shoulder by their dons at Cambridge or Oxford and by the time the end of my sophomore year rolled around, I realized no one had tapped me on the shoulder yet. So I said, you know what, I'm just going to call. They've got to have a main number.

Jon: So who do you call? I want to call the CIA. Where do you get the number?

Rodney: There was a thing called a phone book back in the day and in the phone book—

Jon: —to our younger listeners, explain the phone book. 

Rodney: Before the internet where you can just use Google for everything, it was a directory. Basically, a thick book, which had names and phone numbers of people who wanted to be in there, and there was a little section in blue that was for government offices. And lo and behold, there it was. A nondescript entry: Central Intelligence Agency 703-482-1100.

Jon: Is that still the number?

Rodney: It's still the number. I'll never forget.

Jon: I know what I'm going to do after this interview. So, you called?

Rodney: I called, right. And then I just asked for personnel and to my surprise and delight, they sent me on to their human resources department where I then described who I was. I'm a student at Georgetown University, I was wondering if you had student programs or anything available for someone like me. I heard a sigh at the other end.

Jon: That may have not been the first goal.

Rodney: I don't think I was, or maybe they were expecting somebody else, but they very gruffly asked where I went to college, what was my GPA, what was my major and other things like that and they said, “We'll send you an application in the mail,” and the next day, I got this thick Manila folder in the mail, which described a lot of the programs that were out there, and also a basic application for the CIA.

Jon: And this was your Junior year?

Rodney: This was my Junior year – the beginning of my Junior year. That's right. And to my, again, great delight, they did have programs for students like me to join the agency as a full staffer with the same security clearances that every other analyst would get there.

Jon: You had a full-time job while you were going to school?

Rodney: No, I was working there full time over the summer before my senior year and then because I was just across the river, and I suppose I had done well enough that they wanted to keep me around, I was able to come back, once a week on Fridays and work all day there as well.

Jon: You were hired on full time then after graduation?

Rodney: After graduation, right.

Jon: What was your first job there?

Rodney: It was a continuation of my job that I had as a student. In fact, very little had changed except I was reporting there now five days a week and that's a credit to the agency for putting that kind of trust into even young people that they see as having some ability to contribute as well as and perhaps most importantly, the leadership there that was willing to give me a chance and to guide me on that journey.

Jon: So what was your job?

Rodney: I was an analyst on China. Specifically, on Chinese defense industries and missile proliferation.

Jon: Did you pick that or did they pick it for you?

Rodney: They picked that for me. And, it was funny because the first day I arrived, the agency officer who was assigned to me said that the managers were trying to decide what job to put me in, whether it was in their International Security branch or their Industrial Technology branch. And me as a young college student studying Chinese internal politics, foreign relations, and military issues, I wanted to be in their international security branch. To my disappointment, they put me in something called Industrial Technology, and I thought I was going to be sitting there costing uniform buttons and finding out how long it took to build a Chinese tank, but to my surprise, they gave me this really cool account where I was tracking Chinese illicit missile sales around the world. So, I learned a lot about the customers they were selling to, foreign countries that were considered pariah states largely in the Middle East and South Asia.  I learned about missile technology, about nuclear technology, and all sorts of things and it got to be a lot of fun.

Jon: When you see in the movies where people go to work, you can't bring work in with you, you can't bring work home with you, is that accurate?

Rodney: Yes, that is accurate. So one of the good things is that you never work at home. I mean, you may be thinking about the problems that you're challenged with facing and analyzing, but you never bring your work home and that was kind of a luxury. Now of course, being the nerd that I was from Georgetown University, I would be out there reading books and things about my account just to try to stay up on things, but also because this was a really fun job.

Jon: Right.

Rodney: And, I just enjoyed doing it.

Jon: How long were you in that position?

Rodney: In that particular account, I was there for four years.

Jon: You call it account.

Rodney: Right.

Jon: Why do you call it account?

Rodney: That's just the terminology we use to describe the areas of responsibility that each analyst has. So one analyst might be in charge of looking at Chinese leadership politics. Another might be following the Chinese navy.

Jon: And that would be his or her account?

Rodney: His or her account, that's right.

Jon: So then your next account was what?

Rodney: I was sent down to a cool little internal think tank to work on new ways to think about regional security. And our first area was China, and we did a lot of things. First of all, we brought back to the agency – for the first time in decades – war gaming and crisis simulation. And that was really fun because at Georgetown I was doing a lot of that as an extra-curricular activity. So to bring over that sort of expertise from college was a dream.

Jon: How do they war game? Is it through computers or is it you're sitting in a room full of white boards and just think scenarios?

Rodney: It's more the whiteboards and the scenarios. I use the term war game loosely because a lot of what we were doing and a lot of the subjects we were tackling were also considered in the realm of grand strategy, whether it's diplomacy, economics, or things like that. But when we did look at, in conjunction with the Naval War College, that was one of our primary partners, look at actual military conflict, there would be some models that would just spit out the answers for us.

Jon: How long did you do that?

Rodney: I did that for two years.

Jon: Was that chosen? Did you get input on that or were you assigned to that particular role?

Rodney: I was asked to join and because the folks who were also being asked to join were people that I liked, respected, and admired, I said, I'll take a chance and do that. Plus, four years on an account was plenty for me, and it wasn't so far afield from the work that I've been doing, which is East Asia and China, so it was an easy sell.

Jon: On the think tank as you put it, how many people were there?

Rodney: It was about 25, and it was a blend of political analysts like myself as well as military and technology analysts.

Jon: So typical Monday morning you walk in, was there an agenda that somebody said, “Okay, we're going to think about this particular issue and we're going to flowchart this out?” Or how did it work?

Rodney: Well, the main thing was that we all had a big project to work on. So the first project we did was a major war game on a classified subject that I can't talk about, but at the same time—

Jon: —which makes for a real good podcast.

Rodney: On the advice of counsel…. And then also as a political, international relations analyst, I partnered with the more senior analysts to work on a study basically of what makes China tick strategically. How do they think, what are their goals? Can we talk about them? And even in those terms, what do they want.

Jon: Now given your work then, let's fast forward to today where China is now the gorilla in the room. Has it helped?

Rodney: Yes, because we saw it coming and we knew that there would have to be different ways of working with the Chinese because a lot of us see them as competitors, they certainly see us as competitors, but at the same time, we also have to be partners. Our economies are so intertwined and interdependent that it's this strange mix of love and hate almost, or it's dependency and competition. So that's the ultimate paradox.

Jon: From there, from the think tank, you went where?

Rodney: I went back to the China Division, the formal China Division, and I worked in foreign policy for two years. This was about 1996. I did that from 1996 to 1999. And the big issue there was that I was having a lot of fun looking at Chinese relations with North Korea, Southeast Asia, and other places.  China – Afghanistan.  But then I got caught up in a situation where there was some evidence that the Chinese were attempting to influence US presidential elections.

Jon: Imagine that. What year was that?

Rodney: This was 1996. They were looking at—

Jon: This was pre-Facebook too.

Rodney: This was pre-Facebook, right. So they did it in a different way that was frankly not very effective. But Congress started looking into this, this is all unclassified, and there was a select committee set up in the Senate, and ultimately we were writing testimonies for six separate committees, and that was my opportunity for the first time to work directly with then director George Tenet because he was delivering the official testimony about what was CIA's perspective on this thing, which was somewhat distinct from FBI's. But, over time we became this joint task force working together with the bureau on this.

Jon: When you say draft testimonies, that's essentially speech writing?

Rodney: Right.  Yeah, that was, and we had to be very careful because Congress is a very tough customer and they will hang on every word.

Jon: As I would assume China in this instance.

Rodney: Indeed, yes. Especially because of that subject as well.

Jon: How many, on a typical testimony that's going to be given to Congress by the director of the CIA, how many drafts does that go through and how long is it vetted?

Rodney: Well the good thing is that we always had a deadline, so we knew that the pain wouldn't last forever, but we probably went through on average at least 10 drafts and then vetted by dozens of other analysts, of higher level intelligence executives such as the national intelligence officer for this or that, and then again, also the front office of the agency, and then we also send early copies over to our cousins at the FBI, so that they could get a look at what we were doing.

Jon: Are they first cousins, second cousins or third cousins?

Rodney: They’re more like siblings. I guess maybe the British are the cousins.

Jon: Were there – and I think I already know the answer to this – but was there ever a time when the director went off script?

Rodney: No, no. There were opportunities for that to happen during the Q and A portion of these testimonies, and he did both public as well as a closed session, classified testimonies, but I was there at his side whenever there were some questions about an area that was maybe too detailed for him to know about. But he was very well prepared for everything and never went off script and was completely comfortable with the subject matter as well.

Jon: And then your proximity to the director, your role changed?

Rodney: Yes. We had gotten close and then I saw this vacancy notice. We have a little classified ads posting inside of the agency, which you can look for new positions or jobs to apply for—

Jon: —is it like you go on to college, and there's a big bulletin board of ads up?

Rodney: They do have one actually for buying used cars and things like that, but this one was on the computer and there was a position open on the President's Daily Briefing Team to be the Director's Personal Briefer and because Mr. Tenet and I had such a good relationship, I said, “I got to apply for this,” and I did, and I got the job.

Jon: What year did that start?

Rodney: That was June of 1999.

Jon: What is involved to be the personal briefer?

Rodney: The President's Daily Briefing or PDB team comprises of—

Jon: —of course there’s an acronym.

Rodney: —of the President’s briefer, the Vice President’s briefer, briefers for the Secretary of Defense, for the Secretary of the Treasury, for the National Security Advisor.

Jon: And these are different people?

Rodney: These are different people typically, although they may double up. For example, the White House Briefer may also take care of the National Security Advisor, which was good because then you can guarantee that the message is going to be the same, delivered to both. And then also the Director and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, and some people think that's weird because we call the PDB The Book. It's his book, right? Why does he need a briefer? Well, he needs a briefer to do a couple of things. One, on a more immediate basis there are things that happen overnight around the world that we may need to update the briefing with, and so my job was to come in super early in the morning run through the operation center, which was like a big watch office and—

Jon: —how early is super early?

Rodney: When I first started that meant 1:00 AM. When I got my feet under me, that meant 2:00 AM.

Jon: Early.

Rodney: Early, yeah. And I'd read through literally a two-foot stack of documents of intelligence reporting and news that came in overnight, and then I would update the briefing, but also I would provide context for the Director. I would say, “Two weeks ago, this is what we said about this issue,” or “The President will be meeting with President of such and such a country tomorrow, and that's why this is in the book.”

Jon: How much of this was oral and how much it was written?

Rodney: The briefing itself is a document. It's written. And at that time, it was all on hard copy. It was paper, spiral bound. It says the President's Daily Brief for the President's Eyes Only, which of course it was also up to the President to decide if he wanted to share it with some of his cabinet members, and President Clinton, and President Bush both did. Some customers, we call them, liked to be brief orally. Sometimes we were briefing them in the car and one particular customer always got car sick if he read in the vehicle, so his briefer was forced to just basically read it to him and talk about things. And Mr. Tenet, he would read it, but then I would try to track on the paper where his eyes were so that I could jump in—

Jon: —if he had any questions?

Rodney: —if he had any questions, but also to make some comments.

Jon: Right.

Rodney: Here's how to think about this piece. I might even tee it up. Next article I’d say “This is a story about Iran, and what we're trying to show is blah, blah, blah,” so that's the role.

Jon: So the briefing, and I’m foreshadowing where we're going with this, the storytelling for a motion picture or a television, there's a lot in common.

Rodney: Very much so, and that's really evident in the planning sessions for the next day's book. It's almost like if you watch all the President's men, the newsrooms that are around, because then we'd say, “Well, what was the feedback that we got from the customers? Well what's happening on the calendar over the next few days? What are the analysts in the trenches saying that they're seeing over the horizon?” and then we plan the book, but a lot of these stories, for example, let's say it's about Saudi oil prices in the mid 1990s, it would have an arc, right? Because at a certain time, oil was this much, then it spiked. Why did it spike? What are we going to see down the row? How is it and when is it going to come down? So we have to follow these story arcs just like a writer in Hollywood or elsewhere.

Jon: Was there one person who was in charge of keeping track of all the continuing themes or was each briefer responsible for keeping track on their own?

Rodney: Well, again, just like in all the President's men, there is a Ben Bradlee character, an Editor in Chief of the President's Daily Briefing. In fact, he looked very much like Jason Robards literally.

Jon: What was that person's title?

Rodney: He was the Editor in Chief of the President’s Daily Brief and the Chief of the President's Analytics Support Staff. I guess that's the official title, but he was the bottom line and he ruled the place with an iron fist.

Jon: Now when a new president comes in, do these people stay in the same position or did they all transition out?

Rodney: The briefers or the editors?

Jon: The briefers and the editors.

Rodney:  Well first of all, the briefers, the job takes its toll on people, particularly in your personal lives because your days are topsy-turvy. You work at night and then you go home around noon.

Jon: And is this seven days a week?

Rodney: It was first five days a week and then after 9/11 the tempo increased it to seven. So because it took its toll, people only stayed on for about a year. I stayed on longer because I love working for George, I loved my job, and I was having fun. I was pretty good at it. So when a new President comes in, that's usually a good time to swap. Also because Presidents, like everyone, they learn in different ways than other people. They take their briefings differently, they have different preferences and so we try different people in front of them to see what's their style and whether they would match.

Jon: Is there a standard time on when this brief occurs because I mean, Clinton for instance, was a notoriously late night person.

Rodney: Right, right. He would read his PDB in the mid-morning. Sandy Berger who is National Security Adviser would be briefed earlier than that, around 7:30, 8:00 AM. Obama always had his pretty punctually at about 8:30, as did George Bush. President Trump, it's on the calendar every day, but it starts at 11:30.

Jon: After that, you eventually left the CIA?

Rodney: I did, yes. Did you have other postings before, after your briefing? I went overseas in East Asia in August of 2001.

Jon: For how long?

Rodney: I served there for three years.

Jon: And you left the CIA in ’05?

Rodney: At the end of ’05. Basically at the beginning of ’06.

Jon: Why did you decide to leave?

Rodney: Most of the reasons were actually personal in that I was so close to George Tenet and then he had resigned before I returned from overseas, and when I came back, I had a great job again back in the China Division overseeing a team that looked at a really important strategic issue, but it was also at the same time that there was a lot of navel gazing going on inside the agency because of our intelligence failures with the war in Iraq and WMD. We’re prosecuting the war on terrorism, a lot of change coming from that, and then the Office of the Director of National Intelligence came into being, which made the Central Intelligence Agency seemingly a lot less central than it was. So I felt that the current leadership wasn't taking us in a direction that I wanted to go, which was in any direction, frankly. I mean I'll be honest, I've felt that there was a lot of let's go along to get along as opposed to a leader that has a shining torch and you follow that. They were just waiting to see how things shake out and that's not what I wanted. So I decided that instead of waiting it out, I would find something else to do that had the same kind of broader mission.

Jon: And that something else was Disney.

Rodney: It was the Walt Disney Company, yes.

Jon: It is interesting the parallels between Disney and CIA, but what did you do for the Walt Disney Company?

Rodney: I became their very first Director of Threat and Vulnerability Assessment.

Jon: Which is what?

Rodney: Basically, it was a director of intelligence, counter terrorism, and eventually political risk.

Jon: How did that position come to be? How did you get recruited to Disney?

Rodney: I recruited myself, again. The position came to be because after 9/11, the leaders of the company at the time, Michael Eisner and Bob Iger said, “We need to understand better what the potential threat is to us, to Disney,” and they came to Washington and got a lot of briefings from different agencies and they were turned to Burbank somewhat shaken. And they realize that the way that they had been organizing their security was pretty backward and siloed, and there was no real organization or standard metric for any of them. So they revamped the entire thing and created an enterprise level security function.

Jon: I remember at the time of 9/11, the target that people kept saying in Southern California the terrorists would hit was Disneyland.

Rodney: Right.

Jon: Because it was a symbol for America.

Rodney: It was iconic. It's also a big soft target and overseas, whether it's Paris or Tokyo or elsewhere, you can see it as a real proxy for a terrorist to hit mainly because government facilities were becoming much more hardened, but by their nature commercial facilities, particularly ones that are open to the public, can't be. So there had to be other ways to protect them. And one of those ways was let's look around, be aware of what are the potential threats to the company that are out there.

Jon: How do you start doing that? I mean your first day at Disney, you set down your briefcase, and it’s like okay. What are our threats?

Rodney: Well, you talk to a lot of people. And one of the things I did was I tried to talk to people. First of all, I talked to the people who are responsible for security that had been doing this for a long time inside the company and they were very good people. It's just that because Disney grew through acquisitions, Disneyworld and ABC were doing different things and not talking to each other mainly because they've always been doing things that way. So part of the role at the enterprise level of security and intelligence particularly was to try to get as much information from everybody and get them talking to each other. So that's where I started.

Jon: What was the next step?

Rodney: The next step was building out good relationships with local, state, federal law enforcement, intelligence services, and also around the world.

Jon: How long were you at Disney?

Rodney: I was there for about three years.

Jon: Is that position still in existence?

Rodney: It is, yes.

Jon: And then you transitioned to?

Rodney: I joined Henry Crumpton, who is a CIA legend. He had just retired and wanted to form his own consulting company.

Jon: That's what I was going to ask you. Who is Henry Crumpton?

Rodney: He is a legend. If there was a hall of fame, he'd be in it. He is an Operations Officer who has done many great things, but perhaps his most visible claim to fame was that he was the one who planned the response against al-Qaeda after 9/11, particularly when it came to Afghanistan.

Jon: What does the Crumpton group do?

Rodney: Crumpton Group is an international business strategy firm. So it's like a McKinsey or a Bain, helping companies solve problems or find opportunities to work to grow their businesses, particularly overseas, but we also work domestically. The idea was let's bring the same sorts of advice that we were giving to the President of United States to the CEO's of companies. And to my knowledge, Hank was one of the first ones to do this type of a business for a retired CIA officer.

Jon: You also have another business.

Rodney: Yeah.

Jon: Aardwolf Creative?

Rodney: Yes.

Jon: You are the president.

Rodney: I am.

Jon: What is Aardwolf Creative?

Rodney: It is an idea factory, I would say. Technically it's a production company, but it's a vehicle through which Hank, myself and other former CIA or national security officials can try to tell stories about what we did and who we are and bring that authenticity to the screen.

Jon: Why do you think there's such a hunger for that kind of story?

Rodney: There are a lot of reasons. One, spying has always been seen as kind of sexy, and because it's by its nature a secret, people always want to find out what's behind the curtain and how does it work. And, what we found is that, I love watching Jason Bourne and all the other films that are out there, but they typically aren't very realistic.

Jon: What, there's no Jason Bourne?

Rodney: I probably shouldn't say if there is or not.

Jon: You can neither confirm nor deny.

Rodney: But what Hank and I were thinking was the actual stories of what America's spies do for the nation are more interesting, maybe less exciting sometimes, but no less fascinating. And we wanted to bring more of those stories or kinds of stories to the public. We prefer to work in fiction because you have a lot more flexibility to tell stories without a risk of exposing past operations are things, but enough to give the flavor of what we do to the public.

Jon: And you first TV series was?

Rodney: It was a show called State of Affairs.

Jon: What was state of affairs? How would you describe it?

Rodney: It’s a political thriller. We had 13 episodes. Katherine Heigl played a CIA briefer on the PDB who served the President who is played by Alfre Woodard. And the idea was to show that the President did get a daily intelligence briefing that essentially set the table for them every day in terms of national security issues and to show the personal interaction between a CIA officer who’s a briefer and the President, who is the briefer’s first customer.

Jon: How involved were you with the screenwriters and helping them get it accurate?

Rodney: We tried to be as involved as we possibly could. I'm based in Washington, DC, so it was hard for me since I couldn't be there every day, but what we could do was set the parameters. Basically, say what you're trying to repose won't happen and here's why, but at the same time, I'm of a philosophy that if I hire creative people, I want them to create things. And I worried a little bit that putting these as parameters that saying that that would never happen, would reduce their creativity, but in fact it actually increased it because they were forced to break some of the old tropes that they would normally just rely on and some of them still crept in. But, what we like to say was that everything that you saw on the show was plausible, and so I would sometimes get criticism from my fellow CIA alumni like, “That would never happen.” I would say, “But if you think about it this way, if this, this, this happened, could that have happened?” and they would inevitably have to say, “Well, yeah,” so my other counter was if in 1969 I told you that 10 years later the CIA would create a fake Hollywood production company to try to spirit hostages out of Iran, would you have believed me? No, you would say that would never happen, but it did happen. And I think that the imagination is something that can sometimes be lacking in a bureaucracy and we need to encourage more of that. So, that's what we're seeing.

Jon: What other feedback did you get from your friends who are former CIA or current CIA to the show and to just the fact that you are consulting?

Rodney: Well we were doing more than consulting; we were producing, which was great. It was mixed. They love the fact that particularly on the analytics side, that they were out there being seen as integral to the national security decision-making process. The show sort of went operational because our referral was a former targeting officer who had a special relationship with a detainee that was turned loose. And then so she had to go back into the field because they had this kind of relationship. So, that was seen as plausible but not necessarily something that has happened. But probably one of the best pieces of feedback I got was when a friend of mine told me that he was walking down the corridors of CIA and analysts are oftentimes encouraged to put stuff on the wall, on their doors, and to decorate them, and one of them had the letters WWKHD. What would Katherine Heigl do? I thought you know what? It's not bad.

Jon: That's not bad. I neglected to ask you what does Aardwolf mean?

Rodney: If you Google it, it's a small hyena-like animal.

Jon: What does it mean within the intelligence agency?

Rodney: I'm not going to get into that.

Jon: But there is another meaning?

Rodney: There might be.

Jon: Fair enough. Do you ever see yourself going back to the public sector?

Rodney: Sometimes. I toy with it. I have a lot of good friends who are in the current administration and the national security side who I admire, respect, and I speak with frequently, as well as the previous administration, the Obama Administration. I've never seen myself as being political one way or the other because my goal was always to satisfy the mission of protecting America, no matter whether American was red or blue.

Jon: Okay. I want to take it personal a second.

Rodney: Alright.

Jon: What's your guilty pleasure?

Rodney: I like to cook.

Jon: That’s not bad.

Rodney: It's actually not so guilty. Well, maybe the guilty pleasure is getting on YouTube and watching people around the world touring different street food, neighborhoods, and eating different things.

Jon: What's the one talent you wish you had?

Rodney: The one job I wish I had is I'd love to be an NFL offensive coordinator.

Jon: Well, I gave up my dreams of being in the NFL several years ago. What's your biggest pet peeve?

Rodney: Probably typographical errors and the lack of Oxford commas.

Jon: How do you stay energized?

Rodney: I try to work out. I try to challenge myself and be intellectually curious. I'm drinking a Red Bull right now, but that's because of time differences, I guess. I just try to stay alert and alive to new possibilities and you can only do that if you're paying attention.

Jon: Who's somebody you would love to have coffee with or an adult beverage?

Rodney: The person I would have said about six months ago would be Anthony Bourdain. In fact, I would still love to have coffee with him if we were ever able to come back. But, what an amazing figure – a thought leader, cook, traveler, and just an amazing man.

Jon: If you could make one rule that everybody had to follow, what would that rule be?

Rodney: You know, I'm reminded of a great quote from The Office that Michael Scott said when he was asked the same question. He goes, “No matter what, never do anything to anybody for whatever reason.” I think that being in Washington for most of my professional life and particularly now, I think just the need to be civil to each other to respect each other as people, even if you disagree with their opinions. There's no need to denigrate the other person for what they believe in. We need to listen more and talk less, and I also believe there is right or wrong, but there's a way to point that out without demonizing the other person.

Jon: Shifting gears again. You have a unique background in the sense of coming where you are and then getting into the entertainment industry. How do you consume content?

Rodney: I’m mostly on my iPad and whether that's streaming television show, getting news off the web, or reading books in e-formats, I'm pretty much glued in my device in that way.

Jon: How do you see the impact of social media on the entertainment industry?

Rodney: It certainly added a lot more channels for people to access. There's this general hunger for content, I found, and the proliferation of these distribution channels has led to an explosion in demand. But at the same time, it's also led to much more focused audiences. What do I mean by that? I mean that five years ago, when we were selling State of Affairs, we went to six different outlets and got five different offers. Now when I'm pitching television shows or movie ideas, actually TV shows to different networks and outlets, they're looking for something very specific. They're looking for something that their audiences skew male and young, so they want more action, or there's niches. It's actually become a little bit harder to pitch despite the overall demand for content.

Jon: How has social media impacted the intelligence community?

Rodney: Both positively and negatively. Positively in that social media, I think, gives the intelligence community windows into parts of the world that they didn't have a presence or visibility into before. A negative because it just increases astronomically the amount of information that you need to sift through, analyze, assess, and turn into real intelligence. There's a lot of noise now, so it's harder to find those signals.

Jon: What are you working on right now?

Rodney: I’m working on a couple of things. One is a real-time documentary with the great Mark McKinnon, who is a former GOP strategist who worked for the Bush campaign and for the McCain campaign. And now he's also the creator and one of the stars/host of a show on showtime called The Circus. So our real-time documentary, I really can't talk about it that much right now, but it's going to be in that world of politics and media and helping our audiences understand how things are done in today's political environment. Another thing that we're working on right now is obtaining the rights to an excellent book, a nonfiction book about a CIA story. I think that once we get that going, it's going to be something everyone's going to want to watch.

Jon: How can people get in touch with you?

Rodney: I'm on Twitter @rfaraon, that's probably the best way, or LinkedIn.

Jon: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Rodney: Jon, it's been a pleasure. Thank you and your audience for listening. I appreciate it very much.

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The Creative Influencer is a bi-weekly podcast where we discuss all things creative with an emphasis on Influencers. It is hosted by Jon Pfeiffer, an entertainment attorney in Santa Monica, California.  Jon interviews influencers, creatives, and the professionals who work with them.

  • The Creative Influencer , Influencers | Social Media
  • Mar 13, 2019

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