Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
‘Bridge of Spies’: The True Story is Even Stranger Than Fiction

Hollywood loves the smoke and mirrors of espionage. For decades, it has made a dirty, dangerous business look glamorous on silver screens.


"Bridge of Spies," the cold-war epic directed by Steven Spielberg, contends for six Academy Awards Sunday, including best picture. The brilliant Briton Mark Rylance got the Award as best supporting actor. He plays the Soviet spook who the FBI knew as Col. Rudolf Abel before and after his arrest in New York in 1957. Tom Hanks stars as the noble lawyer James Donovan, who defended the mysterious colonel up to the Supreme Court. In 1962, at the behest of the CIA, Donovan handed his imprisoned client over to the Russians in exchange for the captured pilot of a U20132 spy plane shot down over Sverdlovsk. The swap took place at the Berlin bridge connecting communist East Berlin to the West 2014 thus the title.


The movie tries to be true to life. But it reconstructs five grim years in two hours and twenty-one minutes. As it often is, the truth was stranger than its fictional portrayal.


I've written on American intelligence over three decades, as a reporter for The New York Times and as the author of histories of the CIA (Legacy of Ashes) and the FBI (Enemies). I see Rylance, an actor's actor, as the heart of the film. He bears an astonishing resemblance to Abel; his silence and cunning captures the essence of espionage. A gray man in a gray suit slips through the shadows in a black-and-white world carrying encrypted secrets.


Now to the story's facts and fictions:

J. Edgar Hoover had been on the warpath against Soviet spies for a decade when a drunken KGB courier walked into the U.S. Embassy in Paris in April 1957. Reino Hayhanen feared for his life, having fouled up to a fare-thee-well. He had taken $5,000 intended for the American Communist underground in New York, gone on a bender, and bought a one-way ticket to Paris. The CIA station chief delivered him to the custody of the FBI in New York. After the defector dried out, he gave the Bureau its first deep look inside a Soviet spy operation in the United States. Hoover's nightmare came to life.


Hayhanen told the agents an astounding story. He had a legend 2014 a false identity 2014 and a forged American passport when he boarded the Queen Mary for New York. He served as a courier carrying money and encoded microfilm messages sent to and from Moscow. Many messages were hidden in hollowed-out coins, secreted in New York's parks and sidewalks. (A trick nickel makes a cameo appearance in the movie.) Hayhanen named his top superior as the first secretary of the Soviet delegation to the United Nations 2014 who had just left New York, never to return 2014 and his main contact as Col. Abel, alias "Emil Goldfus," an artist with a studio in Brooklyn.


The FBI's Edmund J. Birch led a squad trailing the artist. Carrying a hiddencamera in a briefcase outside a Manhattan restaurant, he got a clear shot 2014 "one beautiful picture of his face," Birch remembered. Haynahen identified the face as Abel's. The FBI watched the suspect around the clock. He never did anything suspicious. The evidence was hearsay.


The Bureau wanted to make an espionage case but they lacked clues. Hoover was livid. On his orders, without a warrant, and outside the law, his agents grabbed Abel, tossed his apartment, and found extensive evidence of spy craft.


But unless the FBI broke Abel, the illegally seized evidence was likely to be inadmissible in court. He was initially charged under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the immigration statute that the Justice Department used when an espionage case could not be made.


FBI agents grilled him for more than two years 2014 first in a broiling prison for illegal immigrants outside McAllen, Tex., on the Mexican border, at "a wetback camp, in a wire cage," said the FBI's Ed Gamber, who interrogated Abel for six weeks and later testified in court. "He was a gentleman, he was polite; he was a nice guy." And he never broke. Then teams of FBI agents braced him at the Atlanta federal penitentiary, one of the toughest prisons in the United States. "I'll talk with you about art, mathematics, photography, anything you want to talk about, but don't ask me about my intelligence background," Abel said. "I have not said anything, and I'm not going to now."


Playing Abel in "Bridge of Spies," Rylance has a great line eliding that silence in three words. If he cooperated, he asks, "Would it help?" History suggests not.


In real life, prosecutors persuaded a federal judge to allow use of the evidence they had seized. Abel was quickly convicted and sentenced to thirty years. Donovan almost immediately won an appeal before the Supreme Court, which granted an extraordinary 90 minutes for argument. He cited the Constitution's ban against warrantless searches and jailing, arguing that Abel's arrest and imprisonment were an affront to American justice.


Anyone who follows the court may be shocked to read that, after long deliberation, only five justices sided with the government. The minority of four wrote: "This is a notorious case, with a notorious defendant. Yet we must take care to enforce the Constitution without regard to the nature of the crime."


President Dwight D. Eisenhower was outraged. "We would have to expose all our intelligence sources and methods in order to obtain a conviction," Eisenhower fumed at a National Security Council meeting attended by Vice President Richard M. Nixon in May 1960, seven weeks after the decision2013 and shortly after the U20132 pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was shot down. "About all the FBI can do is keep spies under surveillance."


The only thing of import Abel ever said to the FBI was an insult: "American intelligence walks in baby shoes." And he had a point. Not until the end of the cold war did the CIA and the FBI learn that the man they knew as Abel was an entirely different person.


He was born in 1903 in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, as Willie Fisher, the son of a Bolshevik. He went to the Soviet Union, became a committed Communist, and was given training, a legend, and a role in Moscow's spy network before World War Two. He came to the United States after the war and worked in silence, undetected, for nearly a decade. And he lived on for nearly a decade after the great swap, dying on November 15, 1971.


Twenty years on, the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist. And today another colonel trained by its vicious spy service rules in the Kremlin.


Hollywood would never greenlight that movie. No one would believe the script.


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Do not blindly follow mobile health applications, warn doctors

They said that a lot of times the applications suggest wrong diet to the user, without knowing the metabolism of the users body, resulting in serous health complication


In view of increase in usage of mobile based health applications, Indian doctors have urged people to not blindly rely on such technologies for health updates as they may give wrong estimates.
They said that a lot of times the applications suggest wrong diet to the user, without knowing the metabolism of the users body, resulting in serous health complications.
"A lot of of applications are not to be relied upon and exist just to generate revenue in the market. There are health applications which claim to measure blood pressure by simply keeping thumb on the screen. Such techniques are misleading," said Pradeep Gadge, a leading diabeteologist.
Citing an example, he said that the blood pressure result after measuring through health applications are always different from manually measuring it.
"There are situations when health application users rely on it for the calories burn during the entire day along with several other things, without even realising that such applications are pre set and do not show the actual results," said Gadge. 
According to doctors, there are an estimated 50,000 medical applications presently in the market and this is expected to grow. Currently, 500 million people worldwide are using health applications for health updates.
Sudhir Kumar, a Delhi-based diabeteologist, said: "People want instant results and further they follow their own methods to loose extra kilos through apps or some methods rather than going for the natural way or the way suggested by the doctors.
"Despite the popularity and promise of these apps, I'm skeptical about most of these. People need to understand that health guidelines for people vary."
He said that a recent survey also had revealed that various health applications had diagnosed several types of diseases to its users, but when they consulted the doctor further they were found to not be suffering from any diseases.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article


Do genes control intolerance and anti-social behaviour?

Many studies in the past have linked genes with offensive bevaviour, but the results have often been inconsistent. A recent study by researchers in Montreal, Canada, though, found that genetics may indeed play a key role in violent behaviour


As Indian society grapples with the issue of intolerance and violence, genetic experts are opening up the hoary discussion on whether genetic makeup can predispose people towards anti-social behaviour.
We are back to the debate on nature versus nurture.
The answer may not be easy to find, but some experts say that the monoamine oxidase A or MAOA gene -- involved in the regulation of emotions and behaviour -- can predispose certain humans towards anti-social behaviour, if they have had adverse childhood experiences.
Many studies in the past have linked genes with offensive bevaviour, but the results have often been inconsistent. A recent study by researchers in Montreal, Canada, though, found that genetics may indeed play a key role in violent behaviour.
The team from Universite de Montreal found that certain polymorphism (change of form) of MAOA gene may disrupt the regulation of emotions and behavioural inhibition in the brain.
"The study found that men with a less frequent variant of the MAOA gene (approximately 30% of them) were at a higher risk of exhibiting anti-social behaviour in adolescence and in early adulthood compared to those without this variant, but who also have been exposed to violence as children," informs Dr Manish Jain, senior consultant (psychiatrist) from BLK Super Speciality Hospital in the capital.
"It implies that even when exposed to the same environment some may develop anti-social traits based on their genetics while others may not," Dr Jain told IANS.
According to Dr Sameer Malhotra, director (mental health and behavioural sciences) at Max Super Specialty Hospital, personality profile of an individual is influenced by both genes and environment he lives in.
So are we any nearer to a clear-cut answer?
"Through genes one inherits vulnerability factor. Environmental factors in conjunction with the vulnerability can influence behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is linked to conduct disorder in childhood. At times, association with family history of alcoholism or drug abuse and aggression are also observed," Dr Malhotra said.
"High levels of neurotransmitter dopamine that is involved in the regulation of emotions and problems in the frontal brain cortex are also reported in such people," he adds.
Other experts feel that people who are victims themselves or have witnessed violence in childhood are more likely to have anti-social tendencies as teenagers and adults.
"The impact on personality would depend on overall environment and positive experiences and the resolution of past experiences, but statically, this statement would be correct that there would be more chances of aggressive tendencies in the absence of support and intervention," explains Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioral sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
"There are many social psychological factors which have a significant impact and to say what percentage would be genes would still need more research though," he adds.
Recently, a criminologist Dr JC Barnes from University of Texas at Dallas found that genes can be a strong predictor of whether someone strays into a life of crime.
The research focussed on whether genes are likely to cause a person to become a life-course persistent offender, which is characterised by anti-social behaviour during childhood that may later progress to violent or serious criminal acts.
"The overarching conclusions were that genetic influences in life-course persistent offending were larger than environmental influences," says Dr Barnes.
There is no specific gene for criminal behaviour as crime is a learned behaviour. "But there are likely to be hundreds, if not thousands, of genes that will incrementally increase your likelihood of being involved in a crime even if it only ratchets that probability by 1%," he points out. "It still is a genetic effect. And it's still important."
Although research has not concluded genetic basis for delinquent tendencies, the influence of genetics and environment combined cannot be ignored.
"The child's initial behaviours and learning are moulded through parenting and family interaction. The temperament with which the child is born along with parenting behaviour styles influence one another," explains Dr Shobhana Mittal, consultant psychiatrist at Cosmos Institute of Mental Health abd Behavioural Sciences in New Delhi.
Children from broken homes, single parents or from families where there is substance abuse, physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse tend to have poor family bonding. Disrupted family atmospheres affect the overall emotional health of the child as well as contribute to the child's personality and coping abilities.
"With immature coping skills, children at times do not understand how to manage anger, frustration resulting in anger outbursts or aggressive behaviour. This further makes the child vulnerable to external influence from their peers," elaborates Dr Sunil Mittal, director at Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences (CIMBS), in New Delhi.
"A recent genetic analysis of almost 900 offenders in Finland revealed two genes associated with violent repeat offenders were the MAOA gene and a variant of cadherin 13 (CDH13) gene. Those with these genes were 13 times more likely to have a history of repeated violent behaviour," Dr Jain told IANS.
Although the role of genes cannot be overlooked any more, the jury may still be out on a definite answer.
But as the experts point out, if a lethal gene is lurking there somewhere, it may make a person a little more prone to act out the bad experiences in life.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article



Meenal Mamdani

1 year ago

I am happy to see that the article does not put the blame solely on genes. Such an interpretation would have harmed kids, saying basically that they are beyond redemption as their genes cannot be changed and therefore their behavior too is unchangeable.

Such a false interpretation would also have harmed adoption. One already sees a lot of prejudice in society with people saying that one should not adopt when the parents are unknown as one does not know what bad traits the child carries.

Fortunately genes are only part of the answer and environment which is far more malleable can be improved to effect better outcomes.

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